Friday, May 13, 2011

The Gift of Tears

Every one of us experiences hardships, sadness, letdowns. Not one of us will go through this life without feeling the potent, life-wrecking power of true loss. It’s how we deal with life’s struggles that tells who we really are, or maybe even who we need to be. For today, because it’s Friday the 13th (and I don’t want to jinx myself), I’m thinking more of the smaller hurdles, not the greater. The ones that ache inside us but don’t floor us.

After spending several less-than-glorious years as a wallowing fool, I decided to ‘just say no’ to murkiness, in favor of simply moving forward when greeted with difficulties. As a rule, that seems great. The laws of attraction folks might even cheer, but recently, I’ve discovered the darker side of this strategy: denial. Even if we paint on our giddy faces and approach each struggle as a chance to overcome, inside us, grief is still happening, only it isn’t being released.

During a recent conversation with a lovely friend, she said, “You can stop being grateful for everything you do have and be a little sad for what you don’t.”

She said this after I talked about something with her and tears came, which I always announce with some amount of shame, “I’m going to cry,” as though people need to be warned that my bright and shiny has tilted. Her words got me thinking about my life and the way I live it. She’s right. I don’t cry as a general rule, except when tears force their way out while I’m talking to someone (sometimes at completely inopportune moments). I don’t sit at home and have a cry-fest for a few reasons. One, it feels like a waste of time. Two, I could always be doing something to move my goals and life forward. Three, crying when I look around at how lucky I am seems like an affront to people who suffer much more than I do. And four, my tears upset my aging soul mate of a border collie. Tears equal useless in my mind, but they break free anyway, always tamped down by my exacting nature with myself (I would never be as unkind and control freakish with anyone else as I am with myself).

This is where the denial comes in. Even though I don’t free the tears, the sadness lives and needs a voice. The person inside me who is hurt by living a solitary existence, who struggles with rejection like any writer, who experiences hurt and loss like everyone else has a right to her tears. But still, I can’t just cry (see above, waste of time).

That is where books come in. Last weekend, I read Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series (which I have loved). This book, thanks to some very heavy handed foreshadowing in previous books (so heavy handed, I called it forebillboarding), involved the death of one of Anne’s children in the horror that was World War I. Walking with the character, while he struggled with his poetic soul, too gentle for such violence, against the sense of honor and duty that leads people to enter the fray, brought forth such a slew of tears that I had to put the dog in another room to protect him from fiction-based anxiety. I wept. A lot. And could right now. I’ve said before that I have no protective filter when I read. For a well-written story with compelling characters, I live the characters’ lives and suffer their hardships.

But what I found after my day of tears was that L.M. Montgomery gave me a gift, a way to mourn that which needed mourning. She, through her beloved poet, gave me a catharsis the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a long time. And though emotionally exhausted afterward, I also felt free. Like the Day of Atonement observed by my wonderful Jewish friends, this was my day of grieving. It was a necessary experience for me to get my happy heart back and to be able to move forward with a more relaxed, accepting sensibility.

But then, it’s also made me even more grateful for my life, to live in a world with books, to have been raised in a place where reading is taught, to have a very special home to live in with an abundance of peace, for a day that I could push everything else aside to live in fiction, to have my border collie still around after I thought he’d already be gone, to have... to have... to have...

I am very, very grateful for my life. And for you.

Quote for the Day from Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

“But tonight somehow, all the beautiful things I have always loved seem to have become possible again — and this is good, and makes me feel a deep, certain, exquisite happiness.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Girl Has to Know What She Wants

My mother told me a story of a friend of hers who said, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” In her mind, she had a vision of what she wanted for her life, and she did marry a rich man (mostly because she never dated any poor ones). Because she and my mom went different directions with their lives, we’ll never know if achieving that goal made her happy or not, but for today, her story is one of knowing about our own inner wants and doing what is necessary to achieve them.

At this point, it would be easy for me to stumble along the path of all my writing goals and yada, yada, yada. But I’m not going there (querying is hard enough without all that gushing and hoping and praying and pleading and writhing). Instead, I’m going to share another goal (I’ve got bazillions of them).

I want to live to be 113 years old. Yup, that’s what I want. And I want to be healthy, fit, happy, and still writing. (During my conversations with my inner selfness, it might have been mentioned that if I just keep writing and submitting and outlive all the agents who reject me, I’ll have a chance at the next generation of agents and the ones after what, when ebooks are history and novels are downloaded directly into our brains.)

So, 113. The number itself came out of a conversation with one of my favorite people, who happens to be a former student of mine. She told me I’m never allowed to get old and die, so we negotiated a deal that I would live to be 113 and she would be ninety something and we could die at the same time, like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. A perfect plan.

But after we made that plan, I started to wonder about us wonky humans. I feel odd to have an “age of mortality” goal, but shouldn’t we all have an idea about how long we want to live and how we want those years to go? Isn’t it more odd that most of us don’t give it much thought? Maybe we feel that the cards are already dealt, or we don’t want to think about how our actions today could affect how many days we get with our grandkids (or granddogs if we aren’t fortunate enough to ever have kids).

I think about it sometimes when I’m walking into my building and see how many people will brave terrible weather to smoke (smoking is not for sissies in a climate like this). I really don’t believe that any of them would want to give up the days they have with their loved ones, and yet they are. Maybe the enormity of mortality sends us into a fugue state, from whence denial springs.

My 113-year goal has made me think about the way I live my life. I’m a bit of a health nut anyway, and this has made my dedication even greater. But today, I’m not really thinking of food choices, but rather mental choices. I joke about it, but I really don’t want to be a snarky old lady, with a pointy-tipped cane screeching at young kids to, “Get off my lawn!”

And then I read this news article about the death of the last combat veteran from World War I and that got me thinking even more. What a plucky, awesome guy he was, who only lived to be 110 (I know, 3 years shy of my goal). His life teaches so much about staying positive no matter what happens, being true to self, and sharing love with family and friends. His life made me want to live mine better, to be more grateful, to laugh more, and even when querying, to not take life too seriously.

After all, I’ve got somewhere around 26,741 days left to go; I better get cracking!

Quote for the Day from L.M. Montgomery in Rainbow Valley

“It is never quite safe to think we have done with life. When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.”