Um, do I have anything in my teeth? Bahaaaaaa!!
For years, I’ve been taking photos of myself with chunks of chocolate in my teeth. A friend suggested that I make a coffee table book. Ha! That’s actually a really great idea! I think this photo does a wonderful job of summing up this summer hiatus that I’ve been on.
Yes, I have been eating a lot of chocolate. I’ve been eating whatever I want, in fact. I can’t tell you what a joy it’s been to not think about every g-d thing I put in my mouth. I haven’t been counting calories or watching portions. I’ve been eating when I’m hungry. I’ve been following the flow of what my body says it wants – and just enjoying the pleasure of intake-without-guilt. You bet I gained some weight. Some times I ate too much. There were a few nights I’ve needed to pop a few Tums. But I assure you, when I said I was going on hiatus, I didn’t just mean from ‘the work of writing’, I meant for, like, everything.
I’ve grown out my hair. Been wearing hats almost every day to help with this transition. Tomorrow I’m dying it back to brown. Gah. I can’t wait to see the new look my fabulous hairstylist will give me.
I’ve slept in. I’ve read until the wee hours of the morning. I’m reading ‘IT’ by Stephen King. A couple of nights ago, the hubby told me I awoke unable to breathe and terrified. When he tried to help me he said I pushed him away! I remember waking up with my hand grasping his wrist. Hog dog, that Stephen King knows how to put terror in his fans. (I won’t read ‘IT’ before I go to sleep anymore. Day time hours only.)
I’ve been swimming, lounging, watching movies, playing, laughing, crying, writing, writing, and writing some more. I’ve loved every minute with Jett and Miller. Golly, they make my heart sing operas.
You see, mostly, I needed a break from the me I’d become over the past year. I needed to…relearn how to fly.
In my post about taking this hiatus, I wrote this:
The thing is…I’m in pieces. I’d like to gather them, and re-design, re-build.
It’s quite impossible to fly when one wing is broken, the other wing is flapping madly, and both ankles are bruised. All metaphors aside, I can be clear with what caused this need for change now that I’ve reflected and allowed this change within to really take hold.
The title of my poetry book is ‘Look At Her’ and when I was on my book tour, I did everything but look at and care for the ‘her’ that wrote it. I became a desperate, competitive, comparing monster who truly believed she was not good enough to fit in. I let myself down by choosing to believe that success looked and felt a certain way – and when I didn’t match that look and when I didn’t feel that way, I made myself less than. I traumatized my self-worth in an effort to reach these pinnacles of ‘success’ that became a driving force within. Blinding me to realities that I just didn’t want to accept. I held my expectation stick up high for others and even higher for myself. No one can reach that high without a ladder of self-care beneath her. And, quite frankly, if that ladder is there, the expectations aren’t.
I felt broken at the end of June. Like a part of who I am as writer was disconnected and slagging behind me like a damaged tail. I didn’t like this feeling. I didn’t like the frustration, the anger, the defeat that was constantly invading my chest and stomach. But once I stopped and cut through the frustration, anger and defeat, I realized that at the core of ‘me’ was a ‘me’ holding up a sign that read: SELF-WORTH 0%. And, friends, that sign was tattered. It was weathered. It’s edges were sharp and dangerous. This was not a new sign. This was not a new part of me.
I spent a lot of time these past two months just being quiet. Not talking for hours. Getting bad breath and a scratchy throat from the silence. I spent time watching water ebb and flow. I spent time listening to the birds and watching the trees take bashes and kisses from wind and rain. I practiced giving full attention to each moment and each collective of moments so that I could figure out what happiness and joy and meaning felt like. I failed at holding moments too. And I felt that heat. I asked for help. And, you know, I do that. I can ask for help. But this time, I asked for help and meant it. It wasn’t connected to helping the other person too. Because that’s a big story for me: helping others at the expense of my own needs and energy.
I stood still and looked back. Gathered the facts and took a hard, honest look at the evidence that made for a serious case of losing oneself. I was guilty. And I needed to plead it. To take responsibility.
At each reading, at each event during my tour and over the months after my book came out, I gave pieces of myself away. I gave them away in an effort to connect to readers, to be a part of the system, to believe that my words had an affect on people who could give me attention and acceptance and, ho-lordy, recognition. These give-aways were glazed in hope and honesty. My intention wasn’t to break apart but to strengthen and feel whole as part of a community I believed in. But I didn’t stick to that intention. I couldn’t, and I didn’t even realize it was happening until my body and heart were like – who the hell are you?
I’ve learned that who I am – a human whose purpose in life is to spread love – forgot to spread the love to herself.
It’s not something you can see by looking at me. It’s not something you can smell or hear if you’re standing near me or speaking with me. Certainly, my poetry tells a very different story…or does it? While there are poems that speak to my deeply-rooted humanist and feminist fire, there are also poems that speak to my wounds…my fears and my weakened self-worth. No one asked me about these poems. They made comments on the sex bits or body bits…even had a couple folks tell me ‘that word is wrong – take it out’ or worse, walk right past me to the other poets in the room and leave me standing alone.
Still, other people told me I was brave to write what I write – and every time, do you know what I did? I shrugged the compliment off. That is a compliment. That’s a great gift to have – the gift of being brave. Yet, I couldn’t even receive the words. It was like, that part wasn’t hard for me to be, so it must not be worth anything. And, after so much standing alone…it was easy to shun the compliments. I felt shunned more than I felt accepted. I felt unimportant more than I felt empowered.
Poetry is like an extra heart for me. When I write it, the words pump from this powerful, confident, focused, completely worthy part of me – but then…this part, well, it seemed to hide. That brave woman who wrote the poems, who was able to let the words flow so freely and with such integrity – she vanished. She certainly did not show up to tell that person “it’s not very nice to tell someone their words are wrong“. She didn’t show up to stand behind me and scoot me into the crowd. And that one time, when I somehow found the courage to join the table, I sat squished between two sets of bony shoulders while hands waved in front of me and mouths spat around me – but no one spoke to me. I sipped my diet cola and asked myself – what the hell kind of community is this? I asked it over and over again…and yet, I still believed it was worth fitting into. All the while, that good old crusty SELF-WORTH sign brought itself to 0%.
Having taken the time to be home, to be in silence, to be in safety and surrounded by love – I let myself feel the sadness and disappointment that moments like the ones mentioned above had burrowed into me. I didn’t let myself feel them as I lived them because…well because I didn’t want to believe that this dream of being a writer on a book tour could be anything less than inspiring and wonderful. Naive? Maybe. Hopeful? Yes. Irresponsible – Yes. And I mean, me – not taking responsibility for my own actions around the myriad of individuals who I met or interacted with at each event.
I needed a re-design of my self-worth system.
I’m smiling so big right now.
Because all of it – each painful, sloppy, jagged, heavy, awful, sad and worthless part of me I thought I was giving away or losing was really – well – I did that! I gave it away. I let it get lost. I let it drag behind me until it broke off and shrivelled up under some bush on Pelee Island.
THIS. IS. CHANGE.
And one extremely clear indication that change is upon you is loss. Is feeling unable to make a decision. Feeling unable to feel. Feeling like ‘I don’t know’ is the only sentence available.
THIS. IS. EBBING OUT TO FLOW BACK IN.
I don’t want to attach my self-worth to winning a poetry prize. I don’t want another poet to like me more because some other poet recognizes my work. I don’t want my worth to be measurable at all. I did that – put a measurement on it (win that award, get published in that lit mag, get that industry news to review my book, etc.). I did it hard. And, I don’t want to do it again. It wasn’t the first time either, but it was the hardest time. And it was the one. The deal-breaker.
I am re-building my self-worth.
We writers always say: write because it gives you [insert happy word/intelligent word].
One year ago, that sentence would have read like this: write because it gives you hope.
Six months ago, that sentence would have read like this: write because it gives you recognition.
Two months ago, that sentence would have read like this: write because it gives you away.
Now, that sentence reads: write because it changes you. Write because your soul tells you to. Write because it’s who you are. Write like no one’s reading but you.
I drifted out…shed some shit…drifted in and it’s a changed waters.
I know this change isn’t complete. I know this change will take practice. I know this change will undo itself because the other way(s) are 39 years strong. I know this change will not give up on me because I won’t give up on it.
I can say that I’m worth it. I’m worth this change.
I can tell you that I feel like a pie – plump, stuffed with yummy goodness and ready for baking. I feel different.
I want to continue to feel how I’ve been feeling on this hiatus. But soon, life’s schedule will change. The kids will go back to school. I’ll have more time to write. More time for whatever I want to fill it with. And the old currents will work hard to pull me out into past patterns. I don’t want to swim in that under toe anymore. I will fill time differently.
I’m working on a new book. Non-fiction. And it’s lifting that powerful poetry-heart out of hiding – and we’re working together to write about this change.
I am invigorated! I am happy.
I’m tired too. But…I did it. I’m proud of myself for being silent and hearing all the words within it, for letting go of those patterns – however close they remain. I can see now like a lighthouse light – glaring and brilliant. I’m proud of myself for trusting the ‘I Don’t Know’.
I’m grateful for all the shoulders that took my tears, for all the emails and phone calls, for all the letters and energies that my family and friends gave me – unconditionally – to help me rise up, let go, gather, re-design and re-build so I could see myself through myself.
And, I’m grateful for all the writers who know exactly what this process is like…for all the tearing and ripping apart of our self-worth strength…and showing me that nothing matters more than the words, than our ability to continue to write them no matter what the damage – and that the words will always heal us into change.
Write on. I am. On the self-worth rebuild.
6 thoughts on “Happy Hiatus! On the Ebb and Flow of Change”
Amazing self-awareness, insight and growth. I have a friend who wrote a wonderful children’s book of poetry, went on tour with it, and hasn’t written a poem since. I have had jobs that had a similar effect. As usual in your work, you are describing the inner landscape of a part of the human condition that is common but hard to admit to, or even articulate. I applaud (yes, I have to say it) your courage. I am so glad you took this time and did this work. Thanks for being a trail-blazer and a role model.
Thanks Carol!! I appreciate your sharing – we are not ever alone in our inner growing, are we?! Thank you for reading!
I love you !
I love you too!!!!
Wow, great blog post Vanessa. The world of writing and publishing is changing so much, it’s easy to get lost. I certainly did. You wrote about re-designing your life. Earlier this week, I started reading a book ‘Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-lived Joyful Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. You might want to check it out! It’s given me a whole new perspective on the world of work. I’m glad you took some time off to relax. 🙂 I can feel your positive energy returning.
Thanks Deb!!! That book sounds perfect! I’ll pick it up! Hugs to you!
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