Disappointing Others With Our Need to Write

I’ve seldom wanted to, but I know I’ve disappointed others.  I’m disappointing some right this very minute.  Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. 

I need to write. This has been a fact of my life that’s run as an undercurrent since I was very little, and perhaps the strangest part about it is that it doesn’t hinge on whether anyone actually reads what I write. 

Here’s the thing:  It’s the way I make sense of the world.  It tells me clearly how I feel.  It’s like breathing:  Constant, sometimes refreshing, sometimes labored and difficult, but apart from very short breaks, always necessary.

But writing takes time, and quiet rooms, and reading, and reflection.  This makes me unavailable.  My response time to emails lengthens.  At times, I turn off my phone and don’t answer my front door.  I’ve been called occasionally –- and teasingly, I hope -- a “recluse,”  “antisocial,” or even “obsessed.”  (If you don’t mind terribly, I’d prefer “committed,” “dedicated,” or if you absolutely must, “literarily eccentric.”)

Pardon me if I sound just a smidge strident here.  I’m generally a “pleaser,” and often will put my own needs in second place if only to avoid confrontation.  But I’m afraid this is as close to “non-negotiable” as I get.

The etymology of the word disappointment, from the late 15th century is, quite literally, “to fail to keep an appointment.”  And so often, this is an appointment of the heart, led on by the expectation of another that we’ll be, or say, or do more than we’re able.

That look in my son’s eyes at five or six years old comes back as clearly as if his little self is right here next to me.  “But you said…” he says softly, as his tears start welling up. 

“I know I said I would TRY, but it didn’t turn out that way. I’m sorry.”

That was a moment when I wanted to say, “Oh, okay.  Never mind.  I won’t… go to work / finish that poem / visit a friend who needs me on Saturday / take a much-needed mental health day alone / accommodate your father’s schedule….We’ll go to the movies instead...”

But I would weigh the consequences -- holding a little boy’s disappointment in one hand, and my responsibility in the other.  I could even hear a voice in my head at times, saying “Well, he’ll have to learn about disappointment someday. We can’t always get what we want.” And when the Rolling Stones’ voices followed, wailing, “But we get what we ne-eed!” I would turn away, and so would he, running his hand across his face and wiping the hot tear on his t-shirt.  And my heart would break a little.

I’d venture to say there’s not a person on the planet who hasn’t felt the clench of stomach and droop of shoulders that comes with disappointment. It’s certainly not a stranger to me.  We expect so much of each other, and of ourselves.

When I was younger, much younger, my home life was so out of control I remember thinking that when I could control it, it would be perfect.  I would be responsible only to myself, and disappoint no one.  As I said, I was much younger. 

But the slowly-dawning surprise of this life has been that it doesn’t stop, this necessity to sometimes hurt and disappoint people, even through the best intentions.  I won’t quote Abraham Lincoln here, but you really can’t please everyone.  If you try, you’ll end up pleasing no one, including yourself.

So, the door is closed, my phone is off, and I write.  And there are people who want me to do otherwise.

Our next lesson, class?  How to avoid the guilt that comes with meeting our own needs and as a result, disappointing others. 

There will be a test after.  Multiple choice.  Unfortunately, none of them perfect.



TED Talk: Opening the Door To Connection

Dr. Brene Brown, researcher and storyteller, embarked on a six-year journey of asking people about connection.  Of course, she found herself at the end of it, and began to understand the power of vulnerability.

Watching this video, I learned so much about how being vulnerable opens the door to finding joy.  Yes, when the door is open, the pain has a way in as well, but the rewards far outweigh the risk.

So many of us are looking for love....and trying to do it with that door closed.

♥   To be loved, we must connect
♥   In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen
♥   To be seen, we must be vulnerable

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

You can also find Dr. Brown on Twitter @BreneBrown and on the web at www.ordinarycourage.com



The Bitter and the Sweet of Valentine's Day

I’ll start by saying that this might be surprising to those who know me, but here goes.  Valentine’s Day is not always my favorite day of the year. 

The reason friends and family may be raising eyebrows right now is that I’m the resident incurable romantic.  My best-loved books, films and poems tell stories of love unrequited, then discovered, then fulfilled.  I tend to sigh a lot, even through a tenth watching of Toby Stephens as the brooding Mr. Rochester, telling Jane Eyre about the thread connected from his heart to hers.  I sometimes accomplish the impossible and bore even my newly-in-love friends by asking them again to tell me how they feel about it.

However, because I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist, on the other side of all that is this: if I had to find one word to sum up my own life and the lives of nearly everyone I’ve known, it would be “bittersweet.”  The dark and the light, yin and yang, blissful happiness combined with the pull of something not yet grasped. 

You may have love, but not enough (choose one or more):   1) money, 2) freedom, 3) health, 4) proximity, 5) ability to express it, or 6) *enter your own particular hurdle here*

As I said, bittersweet.

So, Valentine’s Day.  If you’re vulnerable to the need to fit in, as I was when I was younger -- it can be, quite literally, the most painful day of the year.   I suppose I still think of it as a holiday that tries just a little too hard.

I have a vivid memory of twenty little baskets lined up against the wall in fifth grade.  We walked along those baskets, each emblazoned with a name, and dropped our Valentines in.  Some were full, some weren’t, and everyone knew why.  I’ll let you guess how much wicker was showing in mine.  I can still remember that feeling.

As I got older, and was “without significant other,” February 14th would shine a light on that fact like nothing else.  It always seemed as if there was a world premiere of a long-awaited movie happening at my house, lights criss-crossing in the sky, while inside, I acted out the worst kind of stereotype:  watching Roman Holiday, While You Were Sleeping, When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, or the aforementioned Jane Eyre in any of its adaptations, in sweatpants and fleece, making myself a special dinner and finishing off with Häagen-Dazs.  Sometimes, a lot of Häagen-Dazs

Granted, I’m fairly sure I’ve moved past all that, but it’s hard to know.  For the last fifteen years, I’ve had a dear love to spend the day with, so the hypothesis of my maturity hasn’t been tested.  Robert buys me sweet cards, and then goes above and beyond, writing even sweeter things inside them.  I buy him balloons, and make funny cards on the computer.  We go out to dinner a couple of days before or after the 14th, to avoid the crowds and the impossible-to-get reservations.

But I still see the looks in the office when one of us (not me, for precisely this reason) gets flowers delivered on the Day of Hearts.  The recipient beams, but there’s always at least one who stands back and wears a look that lies somewhere between pleasure and pain.  A bittersweet look.

Working with people living with AIDS for five years in San Francisco taught me an important lesson:  say what you feel now rather than later.  So Robert and I hardly let a day go by without saying I love you -- on Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.

But of course, because I’m a Libra, here’s where I take a deep breath and even out the scale.  Having said all of the above, I’m currently watching a friend and co-worker experience a first Valentine’s Day of a new love as it blossoms, and I find myself sighing again (this is where the incurable part comes in).

It’s their day.  I want to set my curmudgeonly thoughts aside,  and wish them a lovely one together.

Happy Valentine’s Day, you two.



On Jealousy, Envy, and the Color of the Other’s Grass

Although it’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, this is not about romantic jealousy -- although I could, of course, write at length about my history with the green-eyed monster.  Another day, perhaps.

This burst of thought was actually brought on by watching my Twitter timeline roll merrily by, and the hundreds of writers I follow.  I read their cheerful postings of brilliant blog entries, novels available on Amazon, kudos from their fellow writers, and the ubiquitous hastag of #amwriting, with a mixture of emotions. 

The first, I’m glad to say, is respect for their work.  Then, there’s a general feeling of pride in the writing process.  But creeping in hard on the heels of those noble reactions are jealousy, envy, and wishing I were living in what I perceive to be their much more disciplined and verdant pastures.  (Random observation: Isn’t it interesting that jealousy is characterized as “green,” which is also the color of the other person’s grass?)

I don’t suffer from writer’s block.  Far from it, actually.  At any given time, my brain is buzzing with at least ten things I’d like to write about, not to mention the unfinished novel that has left all the characters in truly dire straits and in desperate need of rescue.

Lately, I’m afraid it’s as simple as writer’s laziness.  I can hear my childish voice saying:” I want to play…”

What I should do is:
1) Write this blog entry
2) Write another chapter of “Grace’s Heart” and save those poor people
3) Get further on the transcription of my two grandmothers’ journals before the fragile little books  disintegrate
4) If “none of the above,” then at least give a much-needed vacuum to the living room.

What I want to do is:
1) Watch another endlessly “Quite Interesting” and gloriously funny episode of Stephen Fry’s “QI” television series
2) Play a game of “Risk” on pogo.com, and subsequently take over the world
3) Click every link that Twitter has to offer, which always leads me on a lovely, labyrinthine path through quirky news items, New Yorker cartoons, and YouTube videos
4) If “none of the above,” then get my car washed, stop off at the store to buy the Fritos I’ve promised to bring to the Super Bowl Party we’re attending later, and breathe in one of the sparkling, icy mornings I love so much.  

We have a phrase in this family, and I would be told right now that I’m “shoulding all over myself.”  The words “I should write” run through my head more often than I care to admit.  The truth of the matter is that “I love to write” is a sentiment that's always there.

So, I forgive myself the desire to loll aimlessly on a Sunday.  I try to remember that I give fifty hours a week to commuting and working, a few hours more than that to sleeping, and from the rest must be found time for a dear husband and busy family, chats on the phone or in emails with precious friends, a little learning and growing, a lot of laughing, a scratch behind the ear and change of water bowl for the cats, and the various minutiae of daily life.

And yes, also to taking over the world in a game of “Risk,” and breathing in the beauty of an Idaho morning…

…and writing.