If I Had My Choice …

“If I had my choice …” or “If I could choose any one thing, I would …”

How many times have I heard these phrases? Or read them? It’s likely that we hear them so many times a day we begin to overlook them or ignore them. They become so much white noise added to the background of our lives. I find myself thinking these phrases often. Just this morning, I was thinking about how certain things in my life are not the way I would prefer them to be. And I thought about how it didn’t feel as if I had come to this place in my life, physically or emotionally, by choice. To a large extent, I feel like most of my life has been a case of making the best of whatever was handed to me, whether by the people around me or by the universe at large or whatever. And I found myself thinking it …

If I had my choice, I would …

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Presumably, the end to that sentence is that I would choose a different path. Or I would pick something better for myself. Or more fun. Or more … whatever. The ending to the sentence isn’t what really matters. What really matters is the thought that immediately popped into my head, which was this: “But would I? Would I really?”

I do believe Life has, more or less, happened to me. To a large extent, I did not participate in the choices I made that led me to where I am. I followed along with the plans others had for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or, later, my husband. And so, I went with the flow, more or less. I never thought about what I wanted. I never thought about what my own dreams were. I never thought about … well, anything. I never planned anything. Or, if I did have the shadow of a plan in my mind, I let it go all too readily and easily in the face of what others wanted.

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In some ways, it’s liberating, isn’t it? I mean, to feel like you can look back at your life … or that you can look at the unhappy/unpleasant/untenable situation you are in … and realize you are there because you simply flowed along in the river of life, absolves you of all responsibility. Right? It’s not like you are unhappy because of choices you made. Or that you feel stuck and ineffective because of things you actively did. Someone else put you in that spot. And, if you had had your own choices or your own way, things would have been better.

But, seriously. This isn’t true at all, is it? Because I did choose. I chose every single thing that got me to where I am today. I chose those things by NOT choosing anything. I chose those things by following along with what others wanted and by making the best of whatever was tossed my way. I chose through inaction.

It kind of hurts, when I think about it this way. When I sit and think about it and am honest with myself, it hurts a lot. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. And that’s how I know it is at least partially the truth. That sick-to-my-stomach feeling almost never leads me astray. It is almost always right. Maybe not totally right, but for the most part.

So that brings me back to my original thought today: If I had my choice … Would I be capable of choosing? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.

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The truth is that I never had choices growing up. In my formative childhood and young adult years, I didn’t have the freedom to make my own choices or to dream my crazy dreams. I didn’t have the freedom to dream any dreams. My parents, and, in particular, my mother, had very specific plans and expectations for me and for my future. I was supposed to be a certain kind of person. I was supposed to approach the world in a certain kind of way. I was supposed to do certain things with my life.

I wrote. And my writing, in a way, was my dream and my escape. I used it to let myself wander free from the expectations and the plans that were laid before me. But the truth is that I was never strong enough to break away from those expectations. I kept my writing secret, because it was a source of mockery and ridicule in my family. My brother’s creative talent for drawing was celebrated. My talent for writing was not. My parents were not interested in it in the least. It was never taken seriously. Not even by me, even though I kept on doing it in secret, hiding my scribbles here and there in my room.

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When I went to college, I continued to toe the line with regard to my parents’ expectations. I was supposed to get good grades. I did that. I was supposed to major in a certain thing. I did that. I was supposed to go to law school. I did that, too. At one point, right before I moved for law school, I realized I did not want to do this. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I wanted for my own future. But my parents were adamant that I not delay. “If you don’t go now, you will never do it,” they said. And I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice the logical reply that rang through my mind: “And so what if I don’t?” I didn’t believe in myself enough. I wasn’t strong enough. And so, I went. I moved to a town I hated. I suffered through 3 years of school that I hated. I worked in a profession I hated.

And so, here I am. I am almost 50 years old. And I still have no idea who I am. I still have no idea what I want. I don’t know what my dreams are. Or if I even still have dreams. I mean … is it too late for that? I’m a mom. Does that mean my time is over? Does that mean my daughter is the one to have dreams now, and I am only here to make her dreams a reality? Do I only exist to make others happy?

But this can’t be right, either. Can it? Because thinking about this … thinking about how I have never been a “real” person to anyone around me … It feels wrong. Like, maybe it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth. It’s not MY truth. I want to have dreams. I want to figure out who I am and what I want. I want to work at making my own dreams come true.

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But, if I have never let myself dream or plan or hope or want, do you think it has now become impossible for me to do so? If I have been trained, from the earliest age, to be a person who wants nothing and only makes the best of whatever is handed to her, do you think it is possible to change this? If I make a conscious, concerted effort to sit down and think about what I want from my own life, do you think it is possible to undo a whole lifetime of “this is how you are”?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I feel that part of being kind to myself in 2019 has to be sitting down to think through all of these things. I have to start taking a step back from what others want. I have to start actively thinking to myself, “Self, what do YOU want? Is it the same as what others want from you? Or is it different?” I have to start thinking about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have to start figuring out how to believe in myself. Even a little bit.

Will I be any good at this? Honestly, I don’t think I will — at first. But I think, with practice, maybe I can get better at it. Maybe I will always stumble and get tangled up in the expectations of others. But, if I realize I am doing this, that is an improvement. And learning how to untangle myself will be like taking giant leaps and bounds forward, instead of the marching in place I have been doing for most of my life.

So, let’s do this, 2019. Let’s figure out how to dream our big dreams — at last.

Randomly Selfishly Kind

It seems the internet world is all about random acts of kindness these days. I think there have been always been kind people out there, lurking around. I remember, even as a kid, doing kind things for others. And, sometimes — if I was super lucky — even being on the receiving end of an unexpected nicety. We didn’t call it a “random act of kindness” back then, of course. We just called it “being nice”, but I suppose we weren’t so great at making up snazzy-sounding names for things, particularly since my childhood happened before the internet and cat videos. We were less clever back then.

But I wonder: Is it possible for a “random act of kindness” to be selfish? And, if performed out of a selfish motive, is it still randomly kind? Is it kind at all? Or does it become randomly selfish? Randomly selfishly kind?

I ask this because today didn’t start out as a stellar day. My daughter got to bed much too late last night, the excitement of her first band and chorus concert proving too much for her to handle. Because of this, we were severely late for school — like, I had to call the school to tell them we would be late so they didn’t send a truant officer looking for me. Yeah, that type of “late”. My beautiful, loving child with the sunny disposition and cheerful outlook on life was none of these things this morning. Once I managed to get her out of bed and headed into her morning routine, she grumped her way through the morning and entered school with the type of downfallen expression that really should herald the existence of a black raincloud floating just above her head. If she were a cartoon person, I am certain there would have been steam shooting out of her ears. Today was rainy and cold, which didn’t help matters much at all. I didn’t sleep well last night, so I awoke with a headache. I got drenched in a sudden downpour while walking the child-unit into school. Oh, and I broke a nail when my hand slipped on my wet car door handle. This, of course, ruined the manicure on which I spent a couple of hours last night.

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So my litany of woe should give you some idea of the type of unhappy, miserable attitude I had as I pulled away from school this morning. I didn’t even have the energy to be mad at the universe. I felt tired and used up, and like none of this thing called “life” mattered any more. I decided to stop off at a favorite drive-through for some lunch on my way home, and I have to admit I spent most of my time waiting in line feeling pitiful and small. A gray mood to match a gray day.

As I pulled up to the window to pay, I told the employee, “I would like to pay for the person behind me, too. Would that be all right?” Honestly, I don’t know why I did it. I’m a very shy person. Interacting with strangers makes me feel awkward and afraid, which means a drive-through is a swampy mess of potentially horrible social interactions. I usually survive my drive-through anxiety by speaking as little as possible. And I never ask for anything unusual. I am too afraid of looking like a moron. Today, though, the words just came out.

As I was pulling away, after having paid for both meals, I glanced up, into the rearview mirror. I saw the employee who had helped me handing food to the woman in the car behind me. I saw her gesture toward my departing car, explaining, I suppose, that there was no charge. And, for just a moment, I saw the woman in that car smile.

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And I felt … warm. And happy. And hopeful, once again. I’m not saying it was a perfect day. But it went from a rotten, horrid, awful day to something cut from a kinder, gentler cloth.

To you, the lovely woman in the car behind me at the drive-through today, I would like to say thank you. I don’t know who you are or anything about you. I don’t know what kind of day you had. I don’t know if you woke up this morning in the most awful mood ever … if your car didn’t start … if you got stuck in traffic and were late to work … if your dog chewed up your favorite designer heels … if your coffee spilled on your favorite blouse. Or, maybe, you had the best day ever, with clear streets and an easy commute to a job you adore. But, I do know I was having a rotten, toad-sucker of a day. And you turned that around for me, just by being behind me in line at that moment in time. Just because I got to glance into my rearview mirror and see you smile. For that, I am blessed and more grateful than you can possibly ever know.

Nailing It

I am not a girly girl. I don’t wear make-up. I like jewelry, but I don’t wear a lot of it any more. I don’t spend a huge amount of time getting ready each morning or doing my hair. I don’t like wearing fancy clothes or high heels. When I moved to Virginia and stopped working as a lawyer, the thought that I wouldn’t have to wear business clothes any longer filled me with almost unspeakable joy. No hose … no heels … no jackets … no suits. Just t-shirts, jeans, and tennie-scooters each and every day. This is what I promised myself, and I’ve done my best to keep my word. After all, if I can’t believe myself, who can I believe?

But I do love nail polish and “doing” my nails. It’s the one girly indulgence that fills me with giddy joy. I love heading to my local Ulta, where I can spend hours browsing through all the available brands and colors. I love going on safari in the wilds of the Interwebs in search of fun nail blogs, where creative bloggers swatch and review different nail polish brands and colors. I can hardly find time to write entries for this blog and still manage a bit of work on my in-progress book, but, if I did have the time, you can bet I would be out there, swatching and reviewing and squealing about my favorite finds. Like today, for instance … Today, I found a polish that’s almost identical to the color of my car. Even just typing this out loud makes me want to giggle in giddy happiness. I know it’s strange. Perhaps it’s something only another nail-obsessed person would understand.

I always did my nails when I was younger. I started when I was in about the seventh or eighth grade, although my mother was very strict about what colors I could wear. She considered certain colors immodest and improper, so I always had to ask permission and get her approval before trying a new color. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of money for extras, so I had to make myself happy with just one or two bottles. As I got older, I branched out more with regard to color. And, once I had my own disposable income, I discovered nicer brands, which quickly became my favorites. In general, I stayed pretty conservative with regard to color. A deep red or hot pink was about the zaniest thing I would try, and, even then, I couldn’t wear reds or hot pinks to work. I was working as a lawyer, and it was considered bad form to wear crazy nail polish colors. Now, people probably could get away with it, but, remember, this was about twenty years ago. (Geez … typing that made me feel old and decrepit.)

lovely nail polish bottles. yay!

 

Once I had my daughter, I stopped doing my nails. It was a struggle learning how to be a mom, and I didn’t have the time or the energy to spend on pampering myself. This is what I told myself at the time. The truth is, even then, I was sliding into depression. Once my daughter got a bit older, I had the time for nails again, but I never went back to my old habits. By then, I was trapped in the dark cycle of depression, and I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about much of anything, so my nails really never entered my mind. Sometimes, I would miss how happy those bright colors had made me, but I shrugged it off and told myself it wasn’t for me. Not any more. Depression is like that; it makes you feel like you don’t deserve anything that might make you happy.

About four months ago, I found myself browsing the internet — randomly, as I do … mostly in search of funny cat pictures. I can be honest about this. I firmly believe the internet was built for the sole purpose of displaying and sharing funny cat pictures. If there were no cat pictures, the universe would crumble. I just know it. Anyhow, in my wanderings, I encountered my first nail blog. It was wonderful! So many colors. And designs. And the photos were gorgeous. I ended up hopping from one blog to another for the next several hours and, at the end of it all, I realized something: I wanted to do my nails again. And so I did.

So far, I haven’t looked back. I’ve been indulging in the kind of crazy colors I always wanted to wear, but never had the hutzpah to try. Yellow! Bright green! Purple! Sparkly! Metallic! Bronze! Gold! Any shade of blue! Black! Oh, how I love black nail polish. It’s not just for punk rockers, you know. Middle-aged mommies like it, too. I managed to reconnect with my favorite brand, feeling comforted when it welcomed me back like an old, long-lost friend. And I’ve made some new friends along the way. There are so many more brands of polish out there now. It’s been a pretty fun adventure so far.

Sometimes I wonder why I go all giddy-gaga over nail polish. Why do I feel compelled to dab little glops of color onto my fingernails? It seems silly, really, when you think about it in the abstract. But the thing is … This is one of the very few things I do just for “me”. I don’t  get anything out of polishing my nails. It doesn’t advance some life goal; it won’t earn me more money or make me more successful. It’s a time spent just for myself, quietly enjoying a list of favorite songs or a movie or TV show while waiting for my nails to dry. It’s a rare time when my family knows to leave me alone. They have to fend for themselves when mama’s nails are wet! And you know what? They manage to survive, just fine.

Perhaps it is silly. Perhaps it doesn’t make any sense at all. But it makes me happy. And that’s enough.

 

Pandora’s Box

Where does a person find “confidence”? Is it something we learn to have (or not have) throughout our childhood? Is it something with which some people are born? What is it that makes one person able to stand at the top of a mountain and shout out: “Hey world! Look over here. It’s me! I’m fantastic!!”, while another person can hardly manage to whisper her good qualities out loud in the privacy of her own room.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this evening. I had my piano lesson today, and my teacher told me I am making wonderful progress. In particular, there was a piece I had worked hard at over the past couple of weeks, and he told me I played it beautifully. He said the main thing I needed to work on was having more confidence when playing. When I came home, my husband asked how the lesson went, and I told him what my teacher said — you know, that thing about confidence. My husband shook his head sadly and said I needed more confidence in most aspects of my life, not just in playing the piano.

piano keyboardI wish I could disagree, but I can’t. My husband knows me better than anyone, and he still loves me. This means I have to respect his opinion, and I have to be brave enough to admit when he is right. In this instance, he is absolutely right. I do not have confidence. I have a habit of going on the defensive, even when it’s not necessary. I tend to apologize for things I’ve done wrong before they even happen. I feel flustered and overly upset when I make a mistake. The same things I would excuse or overlook for another person become akin to capital offenses when I do them. I don’t believe in myself. I never have.

Where do you guys find confidence? What gives you the courage to send your words or art or thoughts or dreams out there, into the world? What makes you able to stand on top of that mountain and holler, “Hey world! Over here! Look at me, because I’m awesome!”

I don’t want to be obnoxious. I don’t want to be the center of attention — not even for the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame to which all of us are supposed to be entitled. I just want to like myself. I just want to believe in myself. I just want to see myself for the funny, goofy, slightly off-kilter (but in a good way), creative, nice, loving, beloved person I am. I know that person is in here, somewhere. It’s just that, when I look in the mirror, I can’t see her through the doubts and the criticisms and the self-hate.

two-colored roseSometimes, I imagine Pandora, standing there holding her empty box. And, as she looks down into it, she finds not only Hope left over, but Confidence, too. Maybe, if ask nicely, she’ll save a little bit of that for me.

 

 

If a Writer has Nothing to Say …

And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard?

farm somewhere in pennsylvaniaOr … something like that.

And so, I find myself sitting here in front of my computer, full of the desire to feel the keys of my keyboard bucking and jumping beneath my fingers, but sadly bereft of any original ideas. Even entertaining words with which I could express my unoriginal ideas would be all right. It’s not the ideal, mind you, but it is something. Something is a whole lot better than “nothing”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can summon up the words for my unoriginal ideas, either. Which sucks.

In contrast to a few days ago, when I found myself nearly giddy with the prospect and promise of a “perfect” day, I fear I have ended up in the doldrums of life today. I am grumpy and unsettled — restless … and annoyed, too — although I can’t say exactly WHY I feel this way. And, in spite of my excitement and happiness over the coming of a new school year, I am finding slipping back into the normal “routine” of life much more difficult than I expected. I want to do so many things. I have so many ideas. But I feel unmotivated and exhausted.

It’s okay. The doldrums happen, right? They happen to all of us, and they will pass. Doesn’t make it fun to be stuck there for any length of time, but it won’t last forever. At least … that’s what I keep telling myself. At the moment, I’m not sure I believe it. I rather relish the idea of finding my “positive self” and socking her in the nose or something. Perhaps that’s too harsh. Maybe I would just put glue in her her hair or call her names behind her back.

giant windmill / turbine thingies in pennsylvaniaThis evening, I’ve been thinking about that old adage that I’m sure all of us have heard about a million times: “Write what you know.” Specifically, I was remembering a time when I shyly confessed to someone close to me my ambitions to be a writer. I told them I was working on a book, even. I had never, ever confessed this to anyone else in my whole, entire life. Never. Ever. Ever. This person seemed interested, and they asked me to tell them about my story. I excitedly told them all about how it was a fantasy novel, with a world-hopping protagonist and his Viking-inspired bodyguard / friend, and how they worked for this entity they couldn’t quite trust but also couldn’t quite escape. I went into great detail, as this was back when my story was still new, and I was still excited about the whole thing. At the end of it all, my relative frowned at me and grunted in derision, saying, “Why do you write crap like that? You should write something you know.”

some little town in pennsylvaniaAnd you know what? Here I am, years later, still struggling to bring that idea — the very one my dear relative slammed — into being. I have a first draft, but there’s just so much MORE to the story. It has morphed and changed over time. My characters have changed, too. They’ve grown and matured, just as I have grown and matured. But … I don’t know. I believe in this story. I really, really do. I think it has legs … and teeth. It darn sure won’t let me go. At the same time, I have to be honest and say doubt has crept in to sully the whole process.

What do I know? What am I doing trying to write a story like this, instead of something more familiar? What if I’m wasting my time and effort? What if I’m wrong about this story and about these characters? What if I can never finish this stupid story, so that I’m stuck with these characters rattling around in my brain, talking to me and demanding free pie, for the rest of my life — until I slowly go (even more) insane?

I know. It sounds ridiculous. Laughable, even. But doubts are like that. They are insidious and, even if you can laugh them off as goofy when they first occur, they tend to hang in there. Until, finally, you’ve had enough, and they start to look like Truth.

weathered, red barn in pennsylvaniaHere’s the thing: Behind all those doubts, there is a sliver of true fear. And it is this: What if I don’t know anything? Sometimes, I wonder if my life and past have to be tortured and difficult in order to make me a good, relatable, or moving writer. And I tell myself that, if this is the case, I’m out of luck. Because my life hasn’t been hard. Or painful. Or difficult. Or any of those things. I’ve never been tortured.

And yet … truth is a funny thing. When you think about it objectively, you get the idea that it’s only one thing. It’s “The Truth”, and that’s that. I don’t think life is like that. And I don’t think truth is like that, either. It’s like an onion. You painfully pull back the layers of your thoughts and your memories and your life, crying the whole time and wishing this wasn’t something you had to do in order to get things cooking.

My life has been painful. And difficult. Growing up wasn’t easy, and I’ve done many, many things I wish I hadn’t. I’ve given up bits and pieces of myself in order to make others happy, only to find, in the end, that this was something beyond my power. I’ve towed the line my whole, entire life, trying my best to be “perfect” and “good” … to do things exactly as the people around me wanted … only to realize I would never, ever be good enough. I’ve lost things and people who mattered to me. I’ve been kicked around and hated and vilified by people I thought I loved. I’ve had to face up to being a disappointment and a failure in my own eyes.

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These are the things I know: Love hurts — a lot. You can never live your life in a way so that it counts for two people. You can love someone and not like them all that much. It hurts when you don’t belong. Most of the time, it’s best to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself — until the depression sets in and you can’t do that any more. There are things in life that are beyond understanding. And, once time has done a thing, it’s not possible to go back and undo it. You don’t get a “do over”. Sometimes, the truth hurts, too — enough so that it’s better and kinder to live a lie.

But I can’t write about these things. They are still too painful and too close. And I’m afraid of hurting people I love, because they wouldn’t understand. At the same time, truths need to come out before healing can happen. So I couch the tale in fantasy terms, with a hero who is flawed but trying his best, a demanding outside influence he can never please, and a family that will desert him, in the end.

farm with silos, pennsylvaniaWhich brings me back to …

If a writer has nothing to say, and no words with which to say it … And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard? Can you still hear her scream?

 

 

 

 

Missing You

Longing is a weird feeling. There’s something kind of hollow-eyed and gaunt about it, as if you could eat and eat and eat but never get full. Or, maybe, it’s that itching down in your soul or the pit of your stomach that tells you there will always be something missing from your life. It’s not the same thing as “wanting” — not really. “Wanting” is easy. You want something, you get that something, and *poof*: no more “want”. Longing is the kind of soul-sucking need that feels as if it will eat you alive from the inside out.

cape cod church, cape cod, mass.Lately, I’ve found myself, more and more, in the uncomfortable position of longing for something I know I will likely never have. Even worse, the “something” I need, with every fiber of my being, isn’t tangible. If it was, I might be able to do something about these hunger pangs of the soul that crop up from time to time, taking me unawares.

I long for a simpler life.

shoes above a street. cape cod, mass.Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just clean the clutter and cobwebs out of my brain … get rid of all the extraneous “stuff” crowding up my house and my life … and I’m home free. But it’s not as easy as all that. Things like living in a house that’s clutter-free, only having the things I truly need and use, and even ditching the people who stink up my life with their negativity and mind games aren’t enough for me. All of these are good things, and they would probably be a great start. But I want more. I want the whole shebang — that dream I’ve never possessed but always desired.

star fish window, cape cod mass.I want to live in a place that’s quiet, where I can listen to birds singing and hear the wind rustle through the leaves of the trees. I want to live in a place where people aren’t always in my face, screaming about their beliefs and thoughts and accusing me of hatred when I don’t agree with them. I want to look out my window and see fields and grass or woods with little paths leading through them. I want a white picket fence and a perfect, little garden where I can grow roses, tomatoes, peonies, and hydrangeas. I want to sit on my front porch with a cup of tea and watch the squirrels playing in the yard or the deer in the field or the butterflies landing on the vines crawling up the porch railings. I want to smell  good, rich earth and green all around me. I want to see the stars and watch fireflies chasing each other through the falling dusk. I want to hear laughter as my daughter chases them through the grass.

blue door. cape cod, mass.I want to live in a small town, where people know me and care about me — where I can know them, too, and still care about them. I want to live somewhere where I don’t have to hear about babies being raped or little girls being killed in their own homes. I want to live in a place where people are honest and decent and try to do the right thing … and where they can admit when they have made a mistake. I want to live somewhere where people can agree to disagree, and where doing so doesn’t mean one person automatically hates the other. I want to live in a place where I can remind myself, each and every day, that people really are decent, underneath it all.

picket fence. cape cod, massIs this place real? Does it exist, anywhere on this earth? Maybe not. Maybe it only exists in my own mind, but I suppose that’s what writing is for — so that I can visit it, any time I want.

 

 

 

 

 

SHHHHHH …

Creativity is an amazing and beautiful thing. She’s a bit wild and a lot mysterious, and I’m not sure any of us really knows or or understands how she works. Or why. She’s a little fickle, too — like trying to taste a sunbeam or catch a dancing dust mote on the tip of your littlest finger. Creativity comes at the most awkward times: When you’re in the shower … or late at night, when you’re exhausted and just want to sleep away the yuck and cares of a bad day … or during that important, oh-so-serious meeting with your boss, when you can’t focus on anything he’s saying because all you can think about is how the coffee stain on his tie is shaped like South America. I think Creativity delights in being inappropriate and in making us feel awkward and uncomfortable. She dares us to step outside of ourselves and what society expects of us.

Even so, for all her playfulness and fickleness and taunting and teasing, I think we all love Creativity and her sister, Inspiration. I know I do. I feel happy, fulfilled, and blessed when these dear ladies choose to grace me with a visit, no matter how unexpected. There’s something organic about the creative process. It’s full of heady relief and the sweet, clear tone of that moment of release — when you know, in your heart of hearts, that everything is good and right with your little section of the universe. But Creativity can hurt, too. Immediately, I know I’ll be looking for that next idea: a junkie in search of that next creative high, and there’s no rehab in the world that can save me from it. I love it so.

I want to nurture Creativity — cuddle up to it and wrap myself up in all of it. Yes, even those painful bits that make me feel like something awful has crawled in under my skin and died.

Shhh! Mixed Media Art JournalBut I find the world has a habit of getting in the way. There’s so much noise in my head and in my life. People want this … My family needs that … There are errands to run and laundry and meals to cook and houses to clean and appointments to keep.

And, even worse than all of that extraneous noise, are the times — more than I like to count or admit to — when I get in my own way. The doubts and uncertainties crowd in on me: This idea is stupid. No one will like it. I’ve never been good at any of this. I’m not the talented or artistic one in my family; that’s not my place. People will laugh at me. This will be the worst idea I’ve ever had. This will be the last idea I’ll ever have.

Some of it is borne from past experience. I didn’t grow up in an environment that nurtured or encouraged Creativity. Especially the kind of Creativity that doesn’t necessarily fit into a neat, preconceived idea of what “creative” is supposed to be. The whole point of Creativity is that she devours the box. I know this as an adult; I didn’t when I was a child. Still, it often feels safer to fall back on those hard-learned lessons.

The rest of it, though, is just me. My fear. My timidness. My … whatever. And so I distract myself with silly cat pictures on the Internet (even though I’m a self-admitted dog person). I watch reruns of old TV shows that I’ve seen hundreds of times (as if the ending will magically change on this, the 101st viewing). I chat on the phone or message people through Facebook. Because I can’t let my mind sit still long enough to think and revel in the silence. I’m too terrified to let myself create.

And so, I’d like to say to the world … to the doubters in my life … to my own fear:

SHHHHHHHHHHH. Be still, and let me go.

 

Finding My Way

Inspiration is a fickle thing. It has no beginning or end. It’s not finite; the more you use it, the more there is to use. And yet, when you want it the most, Inspiration tends to be elusive. I find my frustration showing its angry head at those times. The ideas are in there — somewhere in my mind. And so are the words. But I can’t seem to put them together in any sort of coherent or entertaining fashion. Inspiration dances in front of me. She remains just out of reach, playful and laughing while my inner child throws the mother of all temper tantrums.

I’ve had more than my fair share of creative temper over the past year and a half. I feel like I spend most of my time playing tag with my muses, and I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be in my younger years.

The plus side of all of this is that it’s led me to ponder the types of things that seem to make my Inspiration tick. As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” I don’t think my Inspiration particularly likes honey, but there are a few things that seem to make her purr like a kitten hopped up on catnip.

Garden Path: Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington DC

 

Pathways that seem to wander around into nowhere. The isolation of them draws me in, like a special little secret the universe has saved back, just so that she could whisper it into my ear. I love the soft sounds of my shoes against worn brick or packed earth and the fresh smell of all that “green” growing around me. It’s lovely to meander around with no particular destination in mind — not lost, but also not found — and there’s a feeling of expectation in the air, as if anything is possible and waiting just around the next bend.

Roses, Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington DC

 

Much to my surprise, my Inspiration seems to be something of a “girly girl”. As such, she loves things that are bright and shiny. And, like all girls, she loves to get flowers. Roses are a favorite. They are delicate and a bit frilly, but there’s also something strong and brave about them. I love looking at all the layers and layers of petals. It’s a miracle and a mystery all wrapped into one. Plus, like all of us ladies, every rose has a few thorns hidden under her outer beauty.

Bees in the Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington, DC

 

I’m afraid of bees. And pretty much every other bug, too. If something has more than four legs, I tend to regard it with a healthy dose of skepticism and suspicion. But, much to my chagrin, my Inspiration is fascinated with bees. She loves to watch them — from a safe distance, of course — for hours. I think it’s because they really are busy and determined little creatures. I love how they remain focused on the task at hand, in spite of the fact that they’re rather teeny critters surrounded by a huge world. I find I often lack discipline and focus in my own creative efforts. I think my Inspiration can learn a lot from bees.

Snowy Farm, Warrenton VA

 

I grew up in the country, so there’s just something about quiet, out-of-the-way places. Large, open fields or rolling hills — it doesn’t matter. I feel like I can breathe and shake off all the niggling doubts from my daily life, and that’s when my Inspiration likes to come out to play.

Constitution Avenue, Washington DC

 

But, in true twisted fashion, my Inspiration also likes the city. All those people, all going about their business and rushing from point A to point B … and all points in between … focused in on their own desires, creates a manic sort of energy. There’s something a bit crazed about it all. And exciting, too. It’s like this great, big, pulsing organism has come to life around me and swallowed me up. It tends to get my Inspiration’s engines revving.

Store Window, Washington DC

 

Window displays and reflections. I’m not sure how this one works, but my Inspiration loves these things. I find myself photographing them all the time. Perhaps it’s the way each display tells a little story. Or the feeling of some kind of imaginary, fairy-tale world that’s just out of reach.

Store doorway: Harper's Ferry, VA

 

And doorways. Have you ever looked at a doorway, soft golden light spilling through it to pool on the ground just outside, and thought that you might be able to step through there and stay forever? I have.