Assignment

Elizabeth Gilbert asked in one of her recent Big Magic podcasts, for anyone who is interested to write yourself two letters.  One letter from Creativity, assigning it an animal embodiment, and telling you what it wants from you.  Another letter from Fear, again as an animal, telling you what IT  wants from you.  Then, you’re supposed to write a letter back to the both of them together with your response.  I love assignments, so I did it.  Here it is:

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

Dear Birdie,

My name is Creativity, and I am a monkey living deep in the jungles of Africa.  I am curious and playful and inquisitive.  I leap and swing and jump my way across the trees, never looking down to see how far I could fall.  I am always looking higher and further and forward to the next branch, the next vine, the next anything to grasp to propel me on this exhilarating journey.  I can see everything from up here.  It is so beautiful.  All the muck and mire of day-to-day life is diminished.  It’s so much smaller and less significant.  And when the vines and branches line up just right, and I get into that rhythm- don’t get me wrong, my muscles burn and my heart feels like it will explode with the effort- I  fly.  I am so free.  I want that for you too.  Come join me.

Love,

Creativity

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

Dear Birdie,

My name is Fear, and I am a sloth in the middle of the Amazon jungle.  I move slowly and I stay low to the ground where all the danger lies.  Spiders and snakes and traps and poisonous plants.  And darkness.  I am very careful with each step I take.  My heart beats fast too, but in preparation for retreat at the first hint of danger.  I am always looking over my shoulder and all around me to see what everyone else is doing.  I know I could be gobbled up by a jaguar or a cougar or a mountain lion at any moment.  So I make no noise and I try to be inconspicuous.  I don’t want to alert anyone to my presence or make anyone else uncomfortable.  I am tense all the time.  Every little thing makes me jump.  I want you down here with me in the muck and the mire, just barely surviving.  We will protect each other.  Come join me.

Sincerely,

Fear

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

Dear Creativity and Fear,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and to be so clear as to your intentions for my life.  My name is Birdie, and my whole life I have been both of you.  Back and forth and back and forth.  Flying high above the trees and digging in the dirt for nourishment.

Creativity, the way I feel when we work together is incredible.  Time stands still, I lose the feeling of my body, and anything seems possible.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  The tradeoff for me is guilt- that I’m not being productive, not contributing in a real way to my family, community, or society as a whole.  I love you, but I can’t marry you.  We have to get shit done.  But I like the time we spend together, and I love the end results of our collaborations.  They make life worth living and give me the energy and the strength to tackle life’s many challenges.

Fear, when you and I are together, I feel like I’m living in a cave so deep that I can’t see the bright light of the world.  I know that sometimes it’s necessary to do the responsible thing- job, laundry, cleaning, paying bills- to help my husband and my family, but it’s not where my joy lies.  But you help me make smart, balanced choices.  You help me budget my money and not go off the deep end with my creative endeavors.  You help my marriage stay strong, because my husband needs me to be that structured, disciplined, dependable other half sometimes as well.  You help me to stay practical and in the real world.  I will never let you run my life, but you will always help protect me and help me make good decisions.  I will listen to your counsel.  But you’ve got to let go of me sometimes and let me go fly in the high tree tops with the monkey of Creativity.  That’s where my soul lives and where I feel alive.

Thank you both for what you bring to my life.  Freedom and caution.  Expression and productivity.  Balance does not mean an absence of stress.  What it actually is is tension between two opposing forces.  Balance takes effort and concentration.  The tension between the two of you gives my life balance.  Thank you.

Love,

Birdie

The Magical Pen

 IMG_0115

Look at that page.  That’s the ticket right there.  The bomb.  The shizzle.  Opening up a notebook to a clean page feels full of possibility and potential.  What’s going to happen today?  What words or thoughts or ideas are going to bubble up to the surface?  Every piece of writing, for me, begins at first in my head.  That spark.  That flash.  That shimmer that shifts my reality.  Then it goes to the notebook where I hash it out.  Stretch it out.  Play with it.  I will never be afraid of a blank piece of paper.  I will always be excited about this.  This is safe and freeing and feels a lot like heaven.  I am floating.  Light.  I feel amazing.  Finally, my writing comes here to the computer, where I refine and edit and clarify my thoughts.

I recently saw one of my favorite writers speak, Glennon Doyle Melton of the blog Momastery.  After the talk, the audience was allowed to come up on stage only for a brief hug and a picture with Glennon.  The coordinator was very strict about the rules.  The whole business was quite organized, with lots of volunteers helping with phones and purses and crowd control.  I didn’t care about the hug or the picture.  I wanted Glennon to sign my copy of her book, Carry On, Warrior.  This was the souvenir I wanted to take home.  But being the rule follower that I am, I went along with procedure and protocol.  We hugged it out and got a cute picture, in which I was holding the book and one of the two pens I brought to take notes.  (Nerd that I am.)  Glennon’s sister had taken the picture and commented on how much she liked it.  In that moment, I got brave.  “Will you sign my book for me?”  Book open to the title page, cap off the pen.  Ready.  Glennon looks at the long line snaked through the auditorium like- we are breaking the rules and I don’t want anyone to see this, because then I will have to do it for everyone- but she DOES IT ANYWAY.  Rebel.

So now one of those pens is magical, because Glennon used it to sign my book.  Right?  But WHICH ONE IS IT?  The pen went back in my purse right after we met and it got all jumbled up with the other junk in there.  When I fished both pens out later I could never know which one was magical.

We are so quick to place importance on inanimate objects.  We make things like pens and coffee cups and old doilies and wooden spoons special because someone we love, miss, admire, or envy once used it or touched it.  When, if anyone came into your house and saw your crockery with spatulas and your cabinet shelf of mugs, or your linen closet, or your cupful of pens, they would look like ordinary, serviceable items.  Possibly even shabby, junky, and ready for Goodwill.

There is importance in assigning things magical powers.  It helps give meaning to our everyday existence.  It makes things feel special.  My grandmother used this garlic press, so now my ordinary Tuesday night dinner-making is elevated beyond the mundane.  My friend gave me this mug, so my afternoon cup of tea has has the tinge of a visit with a friend, even though I’m sitting here by myself.  We place our sadness and our grief onto objects in a similar way.  This is the shirt I was wearing when he broke up with me.  This is the dress I wore when I got too drunk that night.  This is the other mug, given to me by a former friend, and now I don’t even want to use it because it brings up old hurt feelings.  It just prolongs the sadness and the hurt.  Makes you suck in your breath a little and guard your heart.

Superstition is another version of this.  Take, for example, an ordinary tennis ball.  There is a tendency for people to assign even a tennis ball with supernatural powers.  This is the good one.  The ball you just aced the opponent with on your serve.  The one you were playing with when you hit a winner.  That is the bad one.  The ball you sent flying way past the baseline as if you were hitting a home run.  The one you hit into the net on your first serve.  Don’t use that ball, fish out another one instead.  One without bad juju.

Giving special significance to days on the calendar works the same way.  Holidays, back to school, birthdays, the weekend.  It can lead to anxiety, stress, and disappointment.  When we create attachments to things or days in our lives, it can have negative effects.   Making ordinary objects special seems like a great idea.  But if anything happens to that object- it breaks, you lose it, or it stops working, either physically or psychically- then you will suffer a loss.  In the second case, attaching negative feelings to objects, it unnecessarily  brings up feeling of loss and sadness and pain.  Randomly.  When there’s nothing you can DO about it.  That just feels like torture.  Why torture yourself?  Treat life as a continuum of thoughts and feelings and outlook and EVERYTHING becomes meaningful.  Special.  Reverent.

Both of the pens I took to the talk that day are mixed up in the cramped mess of pens I keep in the cup on my desk.  I may be writing with the “magical” one right now.  Feels kind of nifty.  Full of possibility.  But if I have to feel like someone else is giving me the power to form sentences on a page, then I will never be able to feel confident in my ability to do my own work.  It was because of HER that I felt empowered to write my story.  SHE is the one who made this possible.  I couldn’t have done it without this MAGICAL PEN.  Inspiration, yes.  Responsibility, no.

So what should we do?  Get rid of the objects?  Or the attachments?  The idea that things or days are going to change your life or give you special powers can he helpful on the one hand, but can also be an obstacle to living out our full potential.  We need people to help us.  We need to feel supported and loved and special.  But more important, we have work to do.

You are holding the magical pen.  You are always holding the magical pen.

“How do you NOT grow a baby?”

And other questions I had NO IDEA were coming…

When you think about having kids, you typically picture a three-year-old.  Cute, spunky, full of questions and quirks and adorableness.  What you start with is a squalling, irrational, demanding lump of dough that completely wreaks havoc with all your ideas about motherhood.  By the time you actually HAVE a child who is three, you might be just a teeny bit too tired and too wrung out to deal with their quirkiness.  Or their questions.  My, my, they have a lot of questions.  The most ubiquitous one is “why?,”  which you will be forced to answer to justify every decision you make for your child.  Meals.  Snacks.  Clothing.  Bedtime.  Walks to the park.  This question alone is enough to wear down even the strongest, most balanced, most loving person on the planet.  The “why?s” are relentless.

So you’re driving in the car, minding your own business, when your three-year-old daughter hurls at you from the back seat, “Mommy, how do you NOT grow a baby?”  Say what?  We haven’t even had the most simple talk on conCEPtion and you want to talk CONTRAception?  Who is this child?!  I expected tough questions from my kids- “What is God?  What happens after you die?  How do you make a baby?”  What I wasn’t prepared for were the questions I wasn’t prepared for.  Heck, I’m still not prepared for the questions I was prepared for!  A friend of mine, when her youngest daughter learned how you DO grow a baby, asked if her parents “did THAT” three times to get her and her two siblings.  How do you answer that?!  So I’m driving and Baby Girl is waiting and I am trying not to crash the car.  My dumb answer?  “The mommy and the daddy decide not to have a baby, so they don’t.”  Oh boy, I have my work cut out for me with this one.

Or take the time when I was changing my son’s diaper.  He was around 2 1/2.  On the changing table, diapers and wipes flying, he asks me, “Mommy, after you’re dead, do you come back as a baby again and again?”  I’ve been expecting a different question.  That should be coming much later than now.  When he’s three.  So here we have this situation.  And THIS is the moment when you know your son is TOO OLD for diapers and must be potty trained.  Immediately.  I was not expecting reincarnation.  Funerals and burials, and possibly heaven, yes.  Where is this coming from?  Did he hear it from someone else?  Does he KNOW something that we don’t know?  Being in the comfort of my home this time, and sensing the magnitude of the question, I sent him to the living room and told him I’d be there in a minute.  Then I stood in his room and gathered my thoughts.  How do I answer him?  I realize, for the first time in his short life, that I don’t have the answer to his question.  And I probably never will.  So I decided on a carefully balanced approach to the question, and then I would let his tiny brain spend the rest of HIS life figuring it out.  We talked about heaven and nothingness and rebirth and the fact that there are lots of other ideas out there that I don’t even know about.

Three-year-olds and their questions.  They catch you off guard!  They will ask anything anytime anywhere.  My favorite are the questions during the car rides.  What is it about the car?  I think it’s the lack of eye contact.  They feel safer.  Bolder.  Not embarrassed.  Like a three-year-old feels embarrassment?  Maybe they can sense that I won’t be embarrassed by their questions.  Or the answers.  Another time my son, probably right around three years old, asked me in the car, “Does the baby just JUMP out of there?”  That one was pretty easy for me to answer, surprisingly.  But still tricky when you’re trying to navigate through stoplights and lane changes while explaining how to PUSH a baby out.  We didn’t get into C-sections.  That was for another trip.

So- driving and answering hard questions.  This is something you didn’t learn at driver’s ed in high school.  One more thing you have to think about as you operate a 2,000-pound piece of machinery.  No biggie.  My three-year-olds are now 10 and 13.  Other hard questions are coming.  In the car and in the bedroom and in the kitchen and in the living room.  I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for any of them.  Like all parents, I’ll handle some beautifully, and some completely inappropriately.

Or maybe we’ll start taking the bus.