Tag Archives: writing

Nothing for Fear

Last week I came down the steep stairs from my little attic aerie, sat in a chair in the living room and cried while I asked my partner if he thought I would ever have a less effortful experience of life.

It’s not that anything was really wrong. What I was feeling was an old, familiar feeling of trying to manage my life and myself as efficiently as possible and feeling worn out and unsuccessful.

Trying. Manage. Efficiently. What am I, a machine?

I was tired that evening, and worried about diminished workflow and subsequent diminished paycheck. I wasn’t seeing a way out of my work/income situation, which is a place I’ve been in for several years.

One of the things I did last week during a work shift devoid of work was to join She Writes, an online community for, obviously, women writers. I’d been procrastinating about doing so for a long time.

For years, I’ve been trying to find a writing community, both locally and online. I’ve joined a professional local organization, but their programs are rarely offered up here in Central Maine, as Portland is their headquarters. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to find beta readers for my first book. I put up an invitation to start a writer’s group at the local library and didn’t get a single call. I tried a give and take partnership with another writer so we could read one another’s work and provide feedback, but my partner had other priorities and needed to drop out.

And, of course, I need to work for that paycheck, so my time and energy are largely gobbled up by my financial needs priority rather than the joyful work of my life. This produces a chronic background tension that grinds away at my soul.

Anyway, I decided the time had come and I was ready to join She Writes and see what possibilities might open up through that community. I had to apply to join.

I knew they wouldn’t take me.

They accepted me (probably some kind of mistake) and the day after I sat in the chair and cried, I had another shift with no work and began exploring She Writes. I came across a blog titled “The Only Reason to do Anything is Love,” by Bella Mahaya Carter, and had an epiphany.

Engaging with life from a place of love rather than fear is not a new idea for me, or probably for anyone reading this. It’s the kind of thing we hear and read all the time. I would have said I do that. It’s always my intention to show up in the world with love, which is to say kindness, compassion and respect.

The wording of Carter’s blog, however, indicates motivation, an internal thing, not external action. Make choices with love, not fear. Decide what to do based on love. Do nothing for fear.

Right, I thought. I treat others and myself well. Of course.

Why?

I treat others well because I think it’s effective and I’m afraid of violence, hatefulness, rejection and just plain crazy.

I treat myself well because I’m afraid to be unhealthy, unable to earn a living and/or unable to be independent.

It’s all for fear. It’s not for love.

Furthermore, treating myself well doesn’t equal loving myself. I caretake my physical form like a good property manager takes care of a rental. I exercise, eat well, brush my teeth, wash my body and take care of injuries.

What I think about myself is that I disappointed my parents, drove my brother nuts (not literally!), failed two marriages and made unforgiveable mistakes as a parent. I think I’ve never made a successful career or had a good enough job. I think I’m ridiculously hard to live with. I think I eat too much, use too much hot water in the shower, like obnoxious music, try too hard and am too sensitive. I think I’m unattractive and few people want to hug or touch me. I think I’ve spent years writing a 300,000-word book that, for all I know, has less value in the world than a roll of cheap toilet paper. On sale.

Those are some of the things I’m conscious of. When I look at my fear-based choice making, it appears I also think that if I don’t hold my own feet to the fire at all times I’ll become a lazy, irresponsible, selfish slacker, demanding, mean, dishonest and greedy.

Carter’s blog made me realize I could hardly think of a choice, any choice, whether important or mundane, that I haven’t made based on some kind of fear. Ever. From earliest memory.

The greatest motivator in my life is and has always been fear.

Not only that, but I’ve created a whole pantheon of idols I obsessively and ceaselessly worship in order to avoid the vengeful, punitive God I’ve made out of fear. I make daily bloody and brutal sacrifices of time, energy and life to appease them, but insatiable fear just gets more and more powerful. Here are some of the idols:

  • Responsibility
  • Duty
  • Punctuality
  • Hard work (breaks don’t count)
  • Productivity
  • Loyalty
  • Efficiency
  • Trying
  • Pleasing
  • Perfection
  • Intelligence
  • Frugality
  • Success
  • Focus
  • Discipline
  • Expectation

I read that blog on Friday. There and then I decided to try out making choices based on loving and believing in myself rather than fear of consequences and see what happened.

Without leaving the chair, I asked myself what the hell I was doing messing around with a job I was unhappy in and wasn’t meeting my needs.

On Saturday I applied and tested for a job as an independent contractor to do transcription for an online company.

On Sunday I applied and tested for a job as an independent contractor to do transcription for a second online company and was hired on the spot. I also wrote the publisher of She Writes Press and asked for help with the next step for my book manuscript.

On Monday, when I ran out of work, I began getting qualified (via testing) to do various kinds of transcription through my new job and looked up the resignation process from my medical transcription job.

Yesterday the second online business hired me.

This morning She Writes Press wrote me back with support, suggestions, a recommended professional who might read the manuscript, and what it would cost.

The fear is not gone. In fact, it’s louder than ever because I’m challenging it on so many fronts at once. The difference is I’m not standing nose to nose with it right now. Playing with the new toy of making choices based on what’s loving for myself gives me another option, which means now I can make a real choice.

Fear is not a bad feeling. We need it to survive. It’s just that mine has grown bloated and swollen on all the power I’ve given it over the years. The bigger it gets, the more space it takes. At this point I’ve become its thing. It thinks it can do as it likes with me.

It’s wrong.

I’ve had a belly full of life based on doing things out of fear. It’s exhausting, demoralizing, joyless and hag-ridden. It doesn’t work well and I’m sick of it. When I think about it rationally, I know I don’t need to beat myself with a stick through every day for fear I’ll become lazy, selfish, etc., etc. If I was going to turn into any of those things I would have done it long ago.

How would it be if I used regard for myself as a motivator and refused to do or not do out of fear? What might a life based on doing things out of thinking well of myself look like? What if I stopped giving anything to fear?

The funny thing is life looks much the same. The difference is largely in the outwardly invisible motivation behind my choices. Am I going to relax with music or a video and stretch because that’s the right and responsible way to treat my tiresome physical needs after a long day sitting in which I earned inadequate money, or am I going to do it because I love the way it feels after a tiring day in which I worked hard, whether I earned money or not?

Life is crazy right now. Everything feels like it’s in transition. I hardly know what to concentrate on in any given moment, there’s so much on the table. Even so, now when I run out of energy in the afternoon I spend a few minutes writhing between making a choice between demanding more from myself out of fear or doing something pleasurable and relaxing. So far, every day I’ve managed to choose rest and relaxation after another wild day.

It appears I’ve begun a new practice. I didn’t know that evening I sat in the chair and cried that I was standing on an important threshold. I didn’t know by the end of the week I’d have not one but two new jobs. I didn’t know I was going to finally get serious about putting my manuscript into a professional’s hands and risk failure and rejection. I didn’t know in just a couple of days I was going to begin making a habit out of rolling out of bed and stepping into the day’s embrace with curiosity and a resolve to think well of myself as I navigate, rather than wondering fearfully what would happen next and whether I would manage it adequately.

So far, so good.

Nothing more for fear.

Visit my Good Girl Rebellion page for a quote from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, this week’s antitoxin to powerlessness.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Spoor

I took a walk yesterday on our land. I have a route over our 26 acres that winds around the open fields and keeps me out of the heavy woods and brush, where the ticks are waking. It was grey and overcast, not raw but damp, a combination of snow and rain coming down and turning my already wild hair into a mad woman’s wig. The surface of the snow is glazed hard in most places, but when I got too close to the tree line or the streams that trickle down to the river I punched through it and sank. Walking on the thick layer of leaves under and among the trees was like walking on a sopping sponge. My winter boots immediately let the water in and my socks became sodden.

I saw thickets where the deer had slept, melting the snow with the warmth of their bodies, lying out of the wind in the shelter of trunk and branch. I’ve seen them bedded down before, and I imagined them rising to their feet, squatting in their awkward way to leave pellets and a splash of urine, and then stepping away through the snow with those delicate hooves and legs. Their spoor was everywhere.

The medical transcription business is wildly unpredictable. One seesaws between frantic pleas from supervisors for overtime because of a sudden flood of work and the dreaded “no jobs available” message upon logging in. As I’m paid by production, no work means no money. Since the new year, work has been slow in the company and transcriptionists and supervisors alike are feeling the stress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my fear of not enough these days, and how small it makes me and my experience of life. One of the reasons I like to go out and walk is because it pushes against my tendency to curl up in corners and play hours of solitaire while I make up stories about living under bridges and berate myself for NOT PULLING MY WEIGHT and WASTING TIME.

The river is still ice covered, but the edges are yellowish and slushy. I could see animal prints in the snow over the ice, but I wouldn’t have dared try to walk on it. As I leaned against a tree and looked down at the ice-bound river, I heard a nesting pair of barred owls calling to each other, though it was still early afternoon.

The truth is my medical transcription job is nothing more than a means to an end. It’s all about the paycheck. I take some modest pride in my ability to do an accurate, fast job, but I’m just a pair of skilled hands and ears. One day, when the job and I are finished with one another, I’ll leave no remnants of myself, no track, no scent, no spoor. It irritates me that it has so much power in my life when it means so little.

The bare twigs and branches of the trees were hung with water drops and the pussy willows are beginning to bud out. In the cloudy light the willow buds and water drops were the same silvery grey and I had to get close to tell the difference.

We’ve lately found a local lawyer to help us update our wills and take care of end-of-life paperwork. It’s made me think about all the fragments I’ll leave behind me, the furniture I’ve loved and polished; the mirror I’ve looked in since I was a child; the books I’ve handled and read in cars, in bathtubs, at tables, in beds and chairs and waiting rooms. All these things will be sifted through, separated, sold, passed on. What money there is will be divided and wind up in other bank accounts or hidey holes or cast back into the flow somehow. Perhaps whispers of me will cling to a few objects, but for the most part no one will ever know I passed this way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have an old shed/garage on the land and the snow slide off the roof has had the door blocked and partially pushed open for most of the winter. I was just able to squeeze in the door over the thick layer of ice on the threshold, formed by melting snow dripping off the roof.

We had cleaned out and swept the shed last fall, but when I went in I found pages of paper blown all over the floor. It was a few pages of the first draft of my book manuscript. Last summer we had visitors who used the shed, and I’d hoped they would read and give me some feedback. They didn’t, and I’d never found the manuscript when I looked for it after they left, but the winter currents and drafts discovered its hiding place. Perhaps the wind read it as it ruffled through the pages with chill fingers.

It was odd to stand there and see those pages. It gave me a desolate clarity. Those written words are the most important thing I have. Working or not working, large paycheck or vanishingly small paycheck, all the objects I love and use and call mine—none of that is really who I am. None of it really matters, though it takes up space in my life.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do. It was as though it was me lying there, discarded, damp and wind strewn, unseen, unread, unwanted. It hurt me.

As I gathered up the scattered pages, I noted where the snow had drifted through gaps in corners. Wrinkled beech leaves lay on a discarded futon, whirled in through the broken window above it. I opened a ramshackle cupboard and found a roll of shredded toilet paper and evidence of mice at work, making the most of the unexpected bonanza of nesting material.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I found a bottle cap and cigarette butts on a window sill. More leavings. I know who stood there, smoking, looking out the window. I stood where he’d stood and picked up the butts, knowing his lips were around them, his long-fingered hand had carried them from pack to mouth and then stubbed them out in the bottle cap, a tiny ashtray. I wished for the nose of a wild creature so I could search for the cold, lonely ghost of his scent.

He was here. I am here. Deer crisscross this land we call ours. Mice go about the business of ensuring more mice, and the barred owls carry on their early spring conversation about mating, nesting, eggs and all those mice. We are so caught up in jobs and money and things. We give them so much meaning. The days go by and we alternately struggle and dance through them. But one day we’ll be gone, and we’ll all leave spoor behind, a scent or sign or footprint that is uniquely and simply ours.

These words are my footprints, my scent, my lingering warmth in the places I came to rest, my spoor. They are the signs of my passage and the truest things I have to leave behind when I’m gone.

Visit my Good Girl Rebellion page for a song as this week’s antitoxin. 

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Dancing Home

Last weekend I took my own advice and surrendered to the now of my life.  Two big, heavy wooden doors opened like wings and I came home to dance between them.

New England Barn

One of the dearest friends of my life introduced me (kicking and screaming all the way) to dance more than ten years ago.

“No,” I said, “I can’t do that.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

But she, in her infinite female wisdom, nagged and niggled and poked and prodded until at last I agreed to try it.  Once.  Just to get her to shut up about it!

So I tried it and found myself there, waiting.  I rarely missed a dance for years and years afterward.  Ours was a small group of dancers, ebbing and flowing over the years, but the core group remained remarkably the same.  Sometimes there were only two of us.  It didn’t matter.  It was a safe place, a place to be with myself in candlelight, a place to be in my body without thought, shame or responsibility.  Everything happened at dance.  We raged, we sobbed, we hurt, we lay on the floor.  We shouted and clapped, farted, belched, giggled, played, pounded on the walls and danced until we drooled.  It’s one of the few places in my life where I’ve felt I belonged.

Leaving my dance group was the most painful loss when I left my old life and came to Maine.  I knew I could never replace it, but I hoped to find another place, another group, another dance.

The farmhouse I live in is more than a hundred years old and that means the ceilings are low.  I don’t need a lot of room to dance by myself, but I do need to be able to move freely.  I did dance a couple of times the first winter and spring I was here, but I had to make myself small so I didn’t scrape the ceiling with my hands and my mind was filled with what I’d left behind.  It was so painful I didn’t want to face it again.

In Colorado we danced in a yoga studio.  It was a beautiful space—clean, high ceilinged, wood floored.  Perfect.  Our little town was safe after dark, the studio was easily accessible, it was heated, there was a bathroom available and for most of us it was less than a five minute drive to get there.

Since I’ve come to Maine I’ve searched for a local group.  I’ve talked to several women about dance.  Some have been intrigued, but they’re busy, or they have partners, or we don’t live very close together, or there’s no place to get together and do it.  You know.

Here, the nearest town is twenty minutes away in good weather.  I’m sure there are places in town we might use, but I don’t know where.  Or who.  Or how.  I’m intimidated and overwhelmed and it seems ridiculous to try to find a suitable gathering place when there’s no dance group to use it.

So I stopped trying.  Too painful.  After all, now I have a partner to hang out with in the evenings.  I told myself I’d keep thinking about it, look for openings, and eventually, maybe, be able to start another group.  Or even find one.  One day.  When we had more money.  If we moved somewhere else.  If we had a better car that could actually deal with driving on winter nights.

But this summer there’s a lot of movement and change, not all of it comfortable.  I’m learning a lot.  I’m feeling a lot.  Writing is good, and so is swimming, but dance accesses something deeper.  I’ve known for a few weeks now I need to find a way to get back into those depths for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

So I decided to quit playing games with myself and figure this out.

Naturally, an old farmhouse in Maine comes equipped with a barn.  Ours is a total of New England barn in winterfour stories, a typical New England nineteenth century barn   There’s a bat colony in the top of it and it’s an apartment house for rodents.  It’s constructed of gorgeous beams and posts, high ceilings, huge blocks of stone in the foundation.  Windows look across the tops of the trees and over the river valley, most of them without glass now.  We have six cords of hardwood stored in the garage level and miscellaneous stuff on the top two floors.  The spirit of the building is in the bottom, though, which is accessed through two huge heavy wooden doors that are permanently propped open in the back of the building.  This area is mostly underground and the stone foundation can be clearly seen.  There are old pens and animal stalls built by hand from the plentiful wood here; not boards, but logs and saplings, rough cut.  The mowed area in front of this lower floor is not visible from house, driveway or road and is surrounded by trees.

So, I built a playlist of good music, a mix of old familiar dance tunes and some new discoveries.  I swept and raked, picked up trash and got rid of some impressive spider webs.  I found an old rusty tin can, filled it with dirt and stuck incense in it.  I put on a skirt and some jewelry, found a pair of light shoes I thought would work (I’ve always danced barefoot), grabbed a yoga mat to sit in the grass and stretch on and went to see what would happen.

They were all there, my dancers.  It seemed to me I could almost reach out and touch them.  They mingled with the ghosts of animals, long dead; generations of birds, now flown from empty nests in the rafters; and the dirty lace of old cobwebs.  My feet felt clumsy and heavy in shoes and it wasn’t night, but my body remembered how to move and my brain remembered how to lie down and rest.  The music swept me up, pushed me with sharp elbows and knees, shook me by the scruff of the neck, played with me and soothed me.  I danced with my expectations, my stories, my fears and limitations and loss.  I danced with my disappointment and grief and rage.  I threw down my rigidity, refusal and denial and danced in their blood.  I danced with the joy of coming back to myself.

I danced in an old barn, in a new life, but not alone.  The past is still with me, the dancers I knew green and supple in my memory.  The pain of change is not, after all, too great to bear.  I don’t need money.  I don’t need a better car.  I don’t need anything that hasn’t been here all along.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else or anything else.  I just needed to surrender to what is now.

So this one’s for you, my dear Bobbi; for you, Jill, in all your beautiful sensitivity; for you, Rena, who taught me so much about strength, courage and being real; and for you, Pat, who brought essential balance to our group and allowed us to dance with a playful small boy.

Half a world away, you all still honor my dance with your presence.

**************

The experience of dance is a hard thing to convey to someone who’s never done it.  I’ve written extensively about it, however, in my book.  Please see ‘The Hanged Man’ page for a new excerpt.

We based our dance practice in Colorado on the work of Gabrielle Roth, and I still follow this template.  Please see my web resource page for links.  Also, here’s a wonderful piece about the power of dance:  https://godsandradicals.org/2016/08/22/in-praise-of-the-dancing-body/

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted