40days

"I Know" (Oprah was Totally Full of Shit)

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There was this series Oprah did for a long time called Things I Know for Sure and I loved it. Story goes, someone famous once asked her the question, she thought it profound, then she proceeded to ask a bunch of other famous people the same question, and then it became a thing.

I can see why I liked it. We love knowing things for sure. It makes us feel safe. It means shit can’t fall apart without warning. That our world is predictable and there are rules and we have control.

He’ll love me forever.

My car will start in the morning.

I’ll never be lonely again. 

The shower will be hot.

My feelings won’t change. 

Her feelings won’t change.

It’ll be sunny tomorrow.

I’ll be happy.

And so on.

We rely on knowing things; we think we need to know things; it makes us really, really uncomfortable when we don’t have an answer.

I will rarely ever admit I don’t know. I actually caught myself in a conversation at work the other day where the first two words of my response to everything my colleague said was, I know. How annoying.

I bet I’ve said “I don’t know” less than anything else in my life!

So this one is about not knowing. About saying “I don’t know” more often, without following it up an apology or something I do know. Here’s to “I don’t know” being a full answer.

Here’s to Oprah being totally full of shit.

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(One exception to this, which my friend Matt cheerily pointed out, is: we know we’re going to die. OK. Fine. We know we’re going to die. But the rest? The rest is really a mystery.)

Casting Spells on Myself

Today’s let go is directly inspired from something Elizabeth Gilbert posted on her Facebook wall earlier this year. I’ve pored over it at least a dozen times now and haven’t stopped thinking about it - not for a single day - since I first read it. It hit the truth nerve and magically put to words something I hadn’t been able to name up until that point. I hadn’t even known I was doing it, but oh, I’ve felt the pain of doing it.

Now that I can see my own spell-casting for what it is, it takes away some of its power. Her writing has given me this gift of perspective more than once.

(This is one of the many reasons I am profoundly grateful for good writing and storytelling, by the way. Certain books have changed my life and a small lot of them have probably saved it. Better than therapy.)

I’m not even going to try to say it better than she did, so I’ve just copied her entire post below. Some of these let-go’s are heavier than others. This is of the heavier variety and something I’ll need to practice releasing again and again, I’m sure.

"DON’T CAST A SPELL OVER YOURSELF AND IMAGINE THAT THEY ARE DOING IT…"

Dear Ones —

I was so touched by everyone’s responses to my post yesterday about the dangers of losing yourself in love. Infatuation is a dangerous game, you guys, and an alluring one. Sounds like we’ve all been there. There is something so compelling about the idea of completely surrendering yourself over to another person. There is a vanishing of the self that happens in this process which can feel so delicious at the beginning (who doesn’t want to escape the self?) but which also comes with this potentially disastrous side effect: You have now completely given over your power to another human being. 

After which, as Scooby Doo would say: “Ruh-roh.”

We often call this process “falling in love”. But whenever you give your power to somebody else, you have actually fallen under a spell, which is not quite the same thing as love. Here’s the curious part, though — that person (the object of your infatuation) did not cast a spell over you; YOU ACTUALLY CAST A SPELL OVER YOURSELF. You fell in love with an idea about love, and let yourself become enchanted, and even blinded, by it. You blinded yourself. Because bewitchment in infatuation always comes from within, from your own imagination, and generally has little do to do with the actual truth or circumstances of the other person.

Waking up from that bewitchment can be a horror show. What follows next is the crash — disappointment, depression, rage, shame, withdrawal…or even, as we discussed yesterday, a desire to end one’s own life, because we decided that we must live or die by the other person.

I am reading a novel from 1946 right now by an author named J.B Priestly, and he speaks beautifully about the dangers of infatuation. I just stumbled the other day on the most gorgeous passage on this subject, and I wanted to share it with you all.

In the novel, a young man named Gregory has become obsessed with an entire family called the Alingtons, and an older fellow named Jock is warning Gregory about the dangerous path of infatuation he’s taking, emotionally.

Jock says, about the Alingtons: “You mustn’t make them stand for more than they ought to stand for. You mustn’t turn them into symbols…The Alingtons are an amusing, rather clever, very charming family, and I’m fond of them all. But don’t try to make them add up to anything more than that. Don’t turn them, somewhere at the back of your mind, into something they aren’t, and wouldn’t pretend to be. Don’t make everything stand or fall by them. SWITCH OFF THE MAGIC, WHICH COMES FROM YOU AND NOT FROM THEM. DON’T CAST A SPELL OVER YOURSELF AND IMAGINE THAT THEY’RE DOING IT.” (emphasis mine.)

Then Gregory asks if Jock he is being warned him about the Alingtons — if there is something dark in this family’s collective character.

Jock replies: “Not warning against them. Warning against you in relation to them. You can go a long way — and give us something good in return — if you travel easily and lightly, seeing people as they are, just as people and not as symbolic figures, and not leaving parts of yourself behind, frozen in some enchantment.”

I highlighted the entire page.

This is what I used to do in my life, whenever I become infatuated with anyone (and I’ve done it with friends as well as lovers): I have turned people into symbols of something larger and more magical than they are, thus putting a spell on myself about them. Leaving myself frozen in enchantment. And also, I may add, I did those people a great disservice, by not permitting them to simply be themselves — flawed, lovely, normal human beings. Because when they failed to deliver on my dream (how COULD they deliver on my dream?) the whole relationship fell apart. And then it got ugly.

Don’t do it, you guys.

Wake from your dream, switch off the seductive internal magic, look around you.

Real love — healthy love — is waiting for you somewhere, if you can just keep your eyes open.

Heart, LG

Wow, right?!

Onward, lovelies.

My Excuses are Real and My Reasons are Good

Yesterday I was tired. It was Monday.

It snowed (again).

It had daylight savings jet lag.

Alma was cranky.

I didn’t get to run.

Etc.

I had a bunch of excuses not to post. I spent 10x more time thinking about my excuses than it would’ve taken to just do it. I love my excuses. The thing is this, does it matter to anyone else that I didn’t post for a day during my 40 days, even though I said I would? (No.) Did I really let anyone down? (No.) Were there any long-term consequences to not doing it? (Probably not.) But is making excuses and letting myself off the hook something I do too often and want to practice doing a lot less? (Yup.)

So, while all my reasons for not posting were pretty good, none of them were the real reason(s). The real reason is that I can be super lazy, even with things that matter. And all those little instances where I let myself off the hook - they add up, just like our days. Every time I break my own word to myself, I trust myself a little less to be able to follow-through. Sometimes this is harmless, but sometimes it’s actually dangerous. Over time, this kind of habit can lead to thoughts like, I am not a writerwhich can add up to a lifetime of not writing, which can make for a a soul-sized regret.

I don’t want any soul-sized regrets.

Serendipitously, I came across a brilliant post that James Altucher wrote today about this very subject. He says, "We love our excuses. They are just as much our babies as our ideas are."  He then goes on to break down almost all of the best excuses we make, from “I don’t have enough money/time/resources” to “It’s too crazy.” I recommend reading the whole bit.

I know I’ll continue to make excuses, but as Altucher points out, it’s about tuning into our real reasons and calling ourselves out.

"Remember to always tune your inner ear so you can listen for (and separate from each other) both the GOOD reason and the REAL reason when anyone (including yourself) gives you an excuse.

Most people don’t tune that inner ear. They believe the excuses because it’s easy. Because it gives them permission not to do something they love.”

Onward, kiddos.

 

I Am Not a Writer

Today’s let go is this: I am not a writer. This is an icky one to say out loud, so I know I must. As someone who writes but would never call myself a “writer,” this strikes a chord. I’ve always assumed the label writer belonged to more officially qualified folks. Say, those who’ve been published. Or have written a book. Or make money writing.

It can’t belong to me because it’s not on my business card and I’ve never been hired to write and I’m nowhere near as good - not even in the same universe! - as the real writers I adore: Annie Lamott, Mary Karr, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Joan Didion, Mary Oliver.

Or, I can’t call myself a writer when I don’t write every day. Thinking about writing, obsessing over words, reading voraciously - those things don’t make you a writer. Right?

The thing is this: there are many thoughts and fears that have kept me from writing, but the most pervasive and consistent one is the thought that I’M NOT A WRITER. How insane is that? Dear self, don’t pick up a pen or sit down with a blank screen and see what happens because you’re not a real writer.

Kind of crazy.

But also kind of human nature, it seems.

The best parallel I can draw from in my experience is around running. When people find out I’ve run marathons, the most common response I get is, “I could never do that.”

And my response back, every time, is, “You could if you wanted to.” And not as in, “If you were as driven as me, you’d be able to do it” but as in, “If you want to run that far, you totally can.”

But maybe wanting to is only half the equation, because I think what really allowed me to run those crazy distances was that I honestly didn’t care what the outcome was. I like to run. I like to do things that break my own perceptions of what’s possible. I like to push myself physically. But, I never really attached myself to an outcome. The first time I ran one, I didn’t even have a number and I can’t tell you what my time was — I just know that I finished it. I’ve never timed my splits (I still don’t even know how that works) and I’ve never felt bad about myself for having “a bad long run.” Any day I run more than 10 miles is a win. 16? I kick ass. There’s no such thing as a bad 18-mile run in my book. And a marathon? It’s a MARATHON.

This kind of detachment, but also commitment, allowed me to train for and run three Boston marathons. One in a pretty kick-ass time. One in soul-crushing, record-breaking heat. I committed to the process, submitted myself to it, let it be what it was. And you know what? I now say that I’m a runner.

But the thing is, guys, I care so much more about writing than I ever have about running. I do worry about the outcome, even if I’m the only one who ever sees what I’ve written. I judge. I criticize. I lament. I sweat when the words don’t come or come out hacky. I self-defeat. Yet still, in my heart of hearts, in the truth that runs stronger than all the other truths, is that I love to write and I love to read great writing.

When it comes to running, I just lace up and go. Some days I can blast through six miles and feel like doing six more. Other days my veins are filled with cement and I can barely trudge through two. Both experiences have happened enough times that I know neither means all that much. The point is to keep doing it; tomorrow’s run has yet to be revealed.

A few things have recently raised my attention to the exact idiocy and danger of my “I am not a writer” thinking.

1. Ira Glass’ impeccable bit on storytelling and the secret of producing great creative work. He says a lot in this video, but the thing that keeps ringing in my head is,

"The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work."

2. This little line, which has been haunting me, and I shared my thoughts on the other day.

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3. This Momastery post.

4. Perhaps most importantly, Cheryl Strayed, or the voice behind Dear Sugar is one of my most sacred and beloved current writers. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about some piece of what she wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things.

I recently revisited a piece, where she lists some nuggets of advice to a fledgling 22 year-old.

"Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet."

"You don’t have a career. You have a life." has been ringin’ like a bell in my head, over and over. Just like I’m not a mother, sister, daughter, co-worker, yogi, runner, reader or friend because it’s printed somewhere; I’m all those things because they’re what I do. Right.

"You are a writer because you write." 

Well, ok then. I am.