Out the Train Window

Horizon Perfekt Camera, xpro Lomo Chrome 100 film

There were times this summer when I would have given anything to just ride and ride these tracks up and down the west coast for days, alone. Staring out the window, breathing into the motion and the miles while my soul caught up with its own changing terrain.

I didn't get my days, I got hours. I didn't get my alone, I got two children and interruptions at 30-second intervals. But I did get my train, and my window--for a few magical moments. And I am still staring out at the big big sky, whether I'm back on an East Coast beach or on a ferry or just standing by the kitchen window. Still breathing into the motion and the stillness while my soul catches up.

So many gifts have kept me company these last weeks, including some books I found on the stoop. I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and this passage made me feel certain that we knew some of the same people:

He will not ask the name of the movie star; he actually does not care. Richard, alone among Clarissa's acquaintance, has no essential interest in famous people. Richard genuinely does not recognize such distinctions. It is, Clarissa thinks, some combination of monumental ego and a kind of savantism. Richard cannot imagine a life more interesting or worthwhile than those being lived by his acquaintances and himself, and for that reason one often feels exalted, expanded, in his presence. He is not one of those egotists who miniaturize others. He is the opposite kind of egotist, driven by grandiosity rather than greed, and if he insists on a version of you that is funnier, stranger, more eccentric and profound than you suspect yourself to be--capable of doing more good and more harm in the world than you've ever imagined--it is all but impossible not to believe, at least in his presence and for a while after you've left him, that he alone sees through to your essence, weighs your true qualitites (not all of which are necessarily flattering--a certain clumsy, childish rudeness is part of his style), and appreciates you more fully than anyone else ever has. It is only after knowing him for some time that you begin to realize you are, to him, an essentially fictional character, one he has invested with nearly limitless capacities for tragedy and comedy not because that is your true nature but becase he, Richard, needs to live in a world peopled by extreme and commanding figures. Some have ended their relations with him rather than continue as figures in the epic poem he is always composing inside his head, the story of his life and passions; but others (Clarissa among them) enjoy the sense of hyperbole he brings to their lives, have come even to depend on it, the way they depend on coffee to wake them up in the mornings and a drink or two to send them off at night.

Sharing your journey with such a character can give you the feeling of flying with Icarus--super-human and close to the gods. It can be exhilarating and inspiring, until you realize your companion has forgotten who he is, a mortal, and is married to some alternate reality in which he supercedes all boundaries and rules.

It's not easy to trade in your wings and return to the dirt, to feel yourself face-down in the kind of divot a body makes in the earth after a great fall. The ground itself is not the problem, for the ground is a great comfort--a reminder that gravity and sanity reign. It's the fear of never again feeling the wind in your hair, the worry that all your magic was an elaborate ruse.

There's a time to lay there, face-down in the dirt. And there's a time for getting up, for dusting yourself off and assuming your true height in the world. No more or no less than all you truly are, feet planted and head high. And maybe (just maybe) a little wind in your hair.

Checking In and Catching Up

I'm posting this picture today because I imagine us sitting in this lovely spot, just checking in and catching up. Nothing too profound or heavy, just a "what's new since last time we talked?" situation. We might admire this cool piece of art on the wall and I would sip a cup of hot water or peppermint tea. I love watching the people. I wish I knew what these two were talking about, and what point of connection brought them to this place, on this day, together.

I'm feeling better and better all the time. Partly because I'm having big breakthroughs in the health and wellness department, a subject on which I usually experience a lot of resignation--you know, putting up with things because I think they must just be my lot in life and not really having hope or an expectation that I could feel or be better. The resignation and the symptoms are both so nice to say good-bye to. My appreciation for the healers who care for us, mind, body and soul, is vast and deep.

It's also made such a difference to read this book on Jolie's recommendation and realize that some things I struggle with could have an explanation other than being straight-up character flaws. It's like finding a way into a new level of kindness toward myself that I was in sorry need of, and having someone bulk up my self-care tool kit even more.

I especially love what Elaine Aron had to say about the struggle to share new work that I shared about recently:

The difficulty, I believe, is that normally we artists work alone, refining our craft and our subtle creative vision. But withdrawal of any kind increases sensitivity--that is part of why one withdraws. So we are extrasensitive when the time comes to show our work, perform it, explain it, sell it, read reviews of it, and accept rejection or acclaim. . . . Much of the suffering of sensitive artists could be prevented by understanding the impact of this alternating of the low stimulation of creative isolation with the increased stimulation of public exposure which I have described.


It's hard to know what else to say about this right now because I'm still processing it pretty deeply, but it has made a big difference to do interviews around the web lately. It turns out that I have things to say, but I'm so close to new work by the time it comes out that it's hard for me to have the distance required to anticipate what others might wonder or ask or want to know about it. (Another one I loved doing was for Karen, who is graciously giving away Finding Your Voice to one lucky commenter.)

I am racing a bit against the looming summer vacation, trying to see how much I can get done before the girls are home for ten weeks and my solitude shrinks to a trickle. I'm working on the next Voice and Story Course, and cooking up all the good things I can for my students and friends at Squam in September.

So, that's what's happening over here. I'm dying to hear what's going on with you--jump on in the comments and tell me, and it will completely make my day.

More soon...

Update: I keep forgetting to mention that you can now find site updates on Facebook.


Your Story Matters: Own It

Brené, August '09"Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we'll ever do."  --Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

This week I'm celebrating the release of Brené's new DVD, The Hustle for Worthiness: Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough, with her.  Watching Brené's work develop is like watching a master archer at target practice--she is increasingly hitting the mark on truths that are more and more central to our lives.

This talk holds so many insights that you will want to completely rearrange around, you will want to watch it over again and let the power of what she is finding and saying sink in deeply.  Then you'll want all your favorite people to watch it, too, so they can join you in this conversation.

To celebrate the release, we're giving away a copy of The Hustle for Worthiness to a commenter on this post.  You have until midnight, Friday, March 12th to enter.  Just leave this comment: "My story matters because I matter."  Go ahead--you can own it.

And the winner is (selected with the help of random.org) . . . Jane from New Zealand!  Congratulations, Jane--email me your shipping address at jen at jenlee dot net and we'll get your copy of The Hustle for Worthiness on its way.

To Tell

Colleen and Lucy in Central Park

"Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The only problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say.  Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can't write, but the truth is you can't tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence."

--Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers

Wallflowers at the Dance


Photo: Russian woman at Brighton Beach, Diana+

Here's a quote for the weekend:

"By and large, human beings have become wallflowers at the dance of nature.  In most instances, we feel exactly the same wistful longings but fearful inability to be ourselves, do what we want to do, be what we can be, that most wallflowers feel at dances.  Most of us are watchers, not dancers. We are not living, but fearfully maintaining our secure but deadened existence. We watch life on television or, just as unsatisfyingly, we watch life among others instead of living it ourselves. We watch life literally, not just metaphorically. It has become our politics, our sexuality, our morality, our spirituality.  We watch and vicariously pretend to be."

--The Art of Intimacy, Thomas Patrick Malone, M.D., and Patrick Thomas Malone, M.D.