Posts Tagged ‘insecurity’

The Post – A Murderous Time

March 18, 2008

I am tired. I am tired of struggling and believing and hanging in there. I want to sell everything, and just take off and not have to be responsible anymore. I am tired of struggling and struggling and struggling in life, of reaching for dreams or challenges, trying to live my beliefs, stay open to others, all while life just keeps pounding you. Life, can be murderous. Someone said it’s not the big things that get you, but the accumulation of all those small aggravations, like being nibbled to death by ducks.

Now often those are the words of the tired 2-year-old, and we all have one. Usually when the 2-year-old speaks it, the 52-year-old understands, knows it’s just a rant, and keeps going. It’s those moments in life though, when the 2-year-old utters it, and the 52-year-old agrees, that I know I have to stop and attend to my heart. Those are the times I reach for wisdom others have culled from their lives and put into words.

So for today, I simply leave everyone with the wisdom from others who have been there and lived through it to see the other side:

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In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
From “The Testing-Tree” by Stanley Kunitz
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“The only way out is through.”
Unknown
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“As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. …Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt. …Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage… We need to be told that fear and trembling accompany growing up and that letting go takes courage. Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. So we ask ourselves, “What do I do when I feel I can’t handle what’s going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?”

The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain. But do we understand that becoming familiar with the running away is the key? Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well. Rather than going after those walls and barriers with a sledgehammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty we move closer to those walls…get to know them well. We begin a process of acknowledging our aversions and our cravings. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls…Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can.

….We can begin to pay attention to our methods of escape. …We can misuse any substance or activity to run away from insecurity. When we become addicted to the lord of form, we are creating the causes and conditions for suffering to escalate. We can’t get any lasting satisfaction no matter how hard we try. Instead the very feelings we’re trying to escape from get stronger….Transformation occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move toward our emotional distress without condemning, or justifying our experience.”

Pema Chodron from the book, The Places That Scare You

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“Abandon any hope of fruition.”

Mind training slogan #28, of the 59 mind-training slogans or Lojong teachings of Atisha Dipankara, an eleventh century Buddhist teacher who brought these teachings from India to Tibet. These teachings show us how to transform difficult moments…what we most dislike about ourselves….the greatest obstacles in our lives – anger, resentment etc., into the means to awaken our open heart.

For a full teaching by Pema Chodron on this particular slogan, see her book: Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron, Copyright 1994, Shambhala Publications.

You can also click on the link at the bottom left of the “Tonglen and Mind Training” web page or click here

Two excerpts from her teaching:

“Our next slogan is “Abandon any hope of fruition.” You could also say, “Give up all hope” or “Give up” or just “Give.” The shorter the better.

One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.”

” In Boston there’s a stress-reduction clinic run on Buddhist principles. It was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Buddhist practitioner and author of Full Catastrophe Living. He says that the basic premise of his clinic-to which many people come with a lot of pain-is to give up any hope of fruition. Otherwise the treatment won’t work. If there’s some sense of wanting to change yourself, then it comes from a place of feeling that you’re not good enough. It comes from aggression toward yourself, dislike of your present mind, speech, or body; there’s something about yourself that you feel is not good enough. People come to the clinic with addictions, abuse issues, or stress from work-with all kinds of issues. Yet this simple ingredient of giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing.”

For a complete list of the mind training slogans: click here

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“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

Both, by Eleanor Roosevelt, who also instructed us to:

“Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You.”

So now, I will try to see if the 2-year-old, and 52-year old, can reach agreement in their hearts, to struggle on and “do the thing you think you cannot do.”

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The Post – Okay, NOW Let’s Talk About Where Under the Pier Came From

February 20, 2008

As with most of my projects, my novel in progress, Under the Pier, started as a picture book. What a surprise, hmm? In fact, it started out as three of them – one animal, two human. Two were homework assignments for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL). One was a short story I wrote for myself. As picture books, all were rejected. Yes, I know. Another surprise.

The animal story was one of the homework assignments for ICL. It reflected my love for the sea – I flat out love the ocean, and really flat out love the rocky New England shores. It also reflected my love for all things ignored or overlooked. We used to go to Cape Cod when I was a kid. Forget sunbathing. I spent all my time with a face mask on, diving between waves to see what rolled around on the bottom. If I could have stayed down there forever I would have. Jacques Cousteau was my hero. I loved crawling all over the rocks at Newport, Rhode Island, sticking my face into blue mussel beds, poking into tide pools, and trailing periwinkles. I loved every creepy thing that slithered out from under a pile of seaweed or crawled out of the foamy surf.

Ironically, my animal picture book story started out set in North Carolina, not New England. We’d taken a day trip to Wrightsville Beach and ended up sitting under the pier because it was so crowded. I sat there looking up at the weathered rafters, watching seagulls roost. Then I noticed the pilings covered with snails, blue mussels, and algae. I knew there were all kinds of fish feeding in the surf around the pilings, and I could see dozens of jellyfish bobbing in the waves alongside them. I’d never realized how many things lived right around a pier.

Stuck in my picture book mindset I figured I could do a short nonfiction with the slant of who lives on and under the pier, maybe even give it a bloodthirsty twist – who eats who under the pier. After much struggle, and several rejections, it occurred to me that since my soul was in New England maybe the problem was location. So I changed it to a New England pier, though I kept it a picture book. Again, rejection letters piled in. Finally, busy with other things, I set it aside.

The two human stories – again, one was a homework assignment, the other something I wrote that drew on imagery of the blue-collar town I grew up in. Like I mentioned in my last post, stories reflect the questions in their writers’ hearts. My questions? I was one of those kids more likely to be in the shadows of a dark window at night watching the skunk nose through the garbage cans, than at a middle school dance. Even if you ignore the fact that I went to a Catholic school with nuns and I don’t think we had middle school dances, there were other places in town that did. No matter. I didn’t care, and even if I had gone, I’d have been overlooked. That’s who I was back then. So why bother?

I compensated by becoming very good in school. So good, I could stuff down my insecurity and look down my nose at all the popular girls and their snobby cliques. How many of them could tell a garnet from molybdenum? I could. Academics and books were my shield against the pain of being excluded. They were my place to shine.

The other half of it was, I truly LOVED all those books and studies. Frankly, I had a better time one summer climbing all over a rock quarry hunting minerals and gems than going shopping. Who else would, of their OWN CHOICE, with their own money, on summer vacation, go to the local tobacco and hobby store and buy a dissection kit and formaldehyde-preserved frogs, fish, and crayfish to cut up? And consider this fun? Of course, in this day and age, I don’t think you can get these things unless you’re an adult, a teacher, and you can order from a science supply house. And they don’t even use formaldehyde because I think it’s some kind of carcinogen. But, I survived. It was the mid-sixties, heck, you could also buy interesting chemistry sets. I had those too. And the prepared microscope slides to go with my microscope and my geology hammer and chisel.

I also loved playing baseball on the street behind our house with the neighborhood kids, loved climbing the fence into the cemetery with the boys, and doing anything that did not include makeup or dresses. The times I had been most bored were play dates at other girls’ houses when they wanted to play house, tea, dolls (now if they’d had that GI Joe doll maybe….) or hairdresser. That’s when I usually wished they’d had brothers. Brothers who had the neat aircraft carriers that launched planes, tow trucks with flashing lights, helicopters with winches, or those old metal yellow Tonka trucks. I spent hours with my friend across the street playing with those and digging in his dirt pile. We were trying to get to China. So. Is it any surprise I did not do well at dances? Still, nobody likes to be rejected. So I declared those girls enemy number 1, ignored them like they ignored me, and stuck to the things I loved

Given this background, I figured I could do a story with two girls, Max and Jamie, who were cousins. They were stuck with each other for the summer at their grandmother’s house in a blue-collar, coastal New England town. Of course one was the “neat character” – hated makeup and such. One was the snot – always putting her tomboy cousin down. Mix in a hefty dose of all of those animosities that creep up between two very different 12-14 year-old girls, add in a quiet, smart, 14-year-old boy to bring complications, and there was my picture book. Except it got rejected. Not to mention that what I just described is no more a picture book than a refrigerator is. And…not to mention that the story line is a bit simplistic, cliché, and maybe not totally honest?

Midlife brings humility in the form of gray hairs, wrinkles, and regrets. Life beats you up enough and somewhere along the line you start to realize, gee, maybe I’m not so right, and maybe they’re not so wrong. Odd ideas arise, such as maybe those snobby girls weren’t the only ones acting like a jerk? This was a scary thought. I always saw me as their victim. Though I didn’t like what I was feeling about how I’d acted, I investigated that line of reasoning a little deeper. I took a good look at who were those girls, really? Again, midlife does weird things to you. Suddenly I no longer saw demons, just girls as scared and vulnerable as I was. Where I used books or preserved frogs, they used clothes or makeup. They were girls with their own struggles, insecurities, and troubles. Maybe they were even, say it’s not so, living, breathing, 3-dimensional human beings with feelings?

I’d rationalized my behavior all those years by deciding they got what they deserved for looking down on me. Anais Nin said that we see life as we are, not as it is. In that moment all the defenses started crashing. When the dust settled, all I saw were a bunch of people, all very much alike, all just trying to get by. What I realized was that I could be that geeky uncool person just because that’s who I am and it’s what gives me joy in life and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I finally came to accept me. When you accept yourself, you are then free to accept everyone else. You no longer have to judge others to protect yourself. I could just enjoy being a geek and not wield it like a weapon against others. I could lay the weapon down because it wasn’t them vs. me anymore.

After I got over feeling like a jerk, it occurred to me I could add some entirely new layers and depth to that very superficial “picture book.” Also, about the same time, I finally started accepting 1) I don’t have a voice for picture books and 2) NONE of the stories I wanted to write were picture books. At the shortest, “maybe” chapter books, but frankly, I think most of what I wanted to write fit into middle-grade fiction. I finally accepted the fact that the child inside of me is about 11 or 12.

The final nail in the coffin of trying to stuff a novel into a picture book came in the mid-90s. I attended an SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and one of the published authors critiqued that third “picture book” I’d written for myself. Her feedback said “Great chapter. Where’s the rest of the book? I want to know what happens to your character before and after this chapter.”

My thought was, there IS no before and after. I only wanted to write that one segment. And what did she mean, “chapter?” It was a book, not a chapter.

Faced with a bunch of rejected picture books that weren’t picture books, I finally surrendered to the truth – I HAD to become a novel writer.

UP NEXT – How do you take three picture books and make a novel?