Retreat Into Reading

Not only am I a polyliberamorist, I am also a readdict. You know you’re a readdict when you plow through 2-3 books and then plow through 2 more within a 5-day range.

This readdict’s post is brought to you by the libers The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen and The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson. You know when you’re going through an information-assilimation faze and you can’t read fast enough to accommodate the voracious hunger of your brain? That’s where I am.

I picked up Mark Sundeen’s book in the last month or so at the same time that I bought Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. But it wasn’t until I returned three books to the library that I picked it up. Not only is Sundeen’s writing excellent, the story of Daniel Suelo (aka soil nee Shellebarger) is gripping. Suelo is a fascinating person who, brought up in and living by tenets in his Christian faith, removed himself from the soul-crushing modern world, found a way to stop using money, and to support himself on wits, survivalist skills, and the support of a community of family and friends.

Even though I am no longer Catholic, I realized along the way that a lot of the way I see the world, the values that are important to me, and lessons I learned about what’s important in life came from my faith. To some degree, a change in or lack of faith does not mean that every single thing you ever learned from your past, nor could you do so even if you wanted to. The things I like about myself, about how I believe, the values I hold are things I like, find value in, and believe in their goodness. Why would I want to change that? I do not feel guilt about keeping that which brings meaning to my life and helps me feel as good about myself and my actions as possible.

Reading Daniel’s story, I found that I felt a kinship with this man I do not know who seeks to live his life with faith that God will provide for him. This is not because I share this exact belief, but because I share Suelo’s desire to live as closely to his beliefs as possible. He has put a lot more action into that than I have. I have things I need to work on: Reducing clutter, reducing my dependency on the money system, and living my life the way I want to live. I can’t say I am doing all those things right now.

The more I read Daniel’s story, the more I thought, the faster I read, the more silent I fell inside my head. It becomes almost brain-wrenching to try and change direction from reading vortex into linguistic projections (e.g. blogging). I want a countryside cabin where I can retreat, where I can be alone with only the birds and bugs to be my audience.

From the story on Suelo, I plunged into the Manifesto, a book that has sat on my bookshelves unread for years. The tagline: How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work, and waste seemed like the kind of book that would make a good segue from Sundeen’s book.

I was right.

I’m about ⅓ of the way through Hodgkinson’s book, but a lot of what he says resonates with me and would probably resonate with Suelo as well. The suggestions that are made in Hodgkinson’s book are kind of like Suelo Light. The idea that you can make changes to bring yourself closer to self-sufficiency seems a lot more reasonable and even possibly doable than it would be to give up using money altogether and go live by your wits in caves in Moab. Not many people have beliefs that would drive them to even test out such a system, let alone by able to implement it for over 14 years as they aged well into their middle years.

I spent my 20’s locked into finding my way into the money system because I couldn’t admit that I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t want to have to put into practice my beliefs about finding work I truly loved because I could only imagine being a starving artist who would never be good enough to make money at her art.

I spent my 30’s trying out a better money making path in computers, only to leave behind 10 years of working with miserable, unhappy coworkers. No matter where I went, the griping and the resentment drove me to madness. I decided to side step my way out via graduate s school. I graduated with writing confidence, but not a strong desire to write technical documents.

Now in my 40’s, I think I’ve made my final attempts at getting my value through the system. I am working on my health and my writing – fiction, nonfiction, and blogging. I seem to be making a little bit of progress in both areas. If anything keeps holding me up, it’s a life-long belief that what I do will never be good enough so why bother trying?  This time around, I have the answer.

Because I want to.

How Not to Ride the Waves

I love going into a pool or into the ocean. I also have been afraid of drowning since I was a child. Puts me in a bit of a bind, it does. Because I love the water more than I am afraid, I go in anyway.

Even though I go into the water, I am reluctant to immerse my head under water. Afterwards, my eyes sting so badly that I need to dry my eyes with a towel before they stop stinging and I can see again. Wiping them with my hands only seems to make them sting more. I have tried to shake my head, as I have seen boys and dogs do after they leap, god-like, up from the water, but it doesn’t help.

Because my eyes are sensitive to the water, I cannot wear contacts. Plus, I have poor eyesight. Without eyeglasses, I feel even less confident wave surfing because I am concerned about misjudging wave height, getting knocked over, and drowning.

To summarize with the help of an equation:

My reluctance to put my head underwater/Wear no eyeglasses > My love of water > My fear of drowning

Yesterday, I went to Jones Beach for the afternoon. Jones Beach is a beach along a peninsula off the southern coast of Long Island. The last time I went to Jones Beach was as a teenager, so it’s been at least 25 years since I spent time there.

I had forgotten that the shore can be steep in places. You do not have to go far out into the water to find yourself riding some pretty deep waves. Two or three banks of waves came in one after the other. Children with parents and teens were wave surfing in groups.The beach felt both crowded and empty. I found parking easily. People settled under umbrellas near the lifeguards, but plenty of room still existed for newcomers.

When I arrived, high tide was rolling in. In the span of a couple of hours, the waves dumped a lot of sand on the shore at the spot where I waded creating a deep bank where none had existed. I wrote under a shady umbrella, and then baked in the sun for a bit so that going into the water would be refreshing.

While I was in the water, I started riding some waves higher than the earlier waves by a foot or two. Unfortunately, a huge wave came and I had to make a decision. Go under or try to go over. Which one do you think I made?

Answer: The wrong one.

If I had not been afraid to go underwater because my eyes would sting, I made the choice to try and go over it. But it was already too late for that choice. I had not been close enough to the waves when it was building. As it started to crest, I tried to go over it. Guess who won that one?

Answer: It wasn’t me.

As the water was about to cover me, I held my breath and tried to grab my nose before water went up it (I didn’t make it). The wave knocked me backwards and into a somersault. The lower back of my head hit the sand. My other hand went out for stability, and I felt the water lift my prescription sunglasses up and off my face. I was able to stand pretty up right away, even though I got hit by another, smaller wave. I took a few steps towards the beach, and I heard someone gasp and giggle. I realized that my top and been yanked way down. I was standing with my boobage visible to all. I yanked up my shirt and made my way out of the water. I was kind of, sort of, but not really embarrassed. As I shook my hair out, I realized that my hair clip was gone, too, as was the flexible fabric bandaid that had been on my leg.

Neptune was a greedy bastard.

I tried looking for a washed up pair of sunglasses on the beach. But I know how quickly items can be moved either out to sea or down shore, so I didn’t look too hard to find them.

Afterwards, I felt lucky that my neck didn’t get broken or that I didn’t drown. I was on the edge of the green flags that the lifeguards use. But you can bet next time that I am planting myself right down in front of them. I will leave the glasses behind, or secure them to my body (although I think it will be safer just to leave them onshore. I will have to read up on how to make them sting less or just try to see if exposure will get my eyes used to the salt.

When it comes to wave riding, I will play by Neptune’s rules because he doesn’t play by mine.

Snap Out Of It!

Snap out of it.

Ronny: I love you.
Loretta[slaps him twice] Snap out of it!

Moonstruck (1987)

Ah, if only it were that easy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be awoken from our lifelong reveries with a couple of quick slaps to the face and a command to wake up? I wonder how many of us would willingly stand in front of someone to experience this. I imagine stories  written and movies made about the lengths human beings would go to in order to avoid it. Some would be comic, but many tragic. I write this in the hope that someone reading might find it helpful and avoid their own tragicomedy, comedy, or tragedy.

My therapy session on Friday was one of the more effective hours I have spent talking to someone about my feelings. I stayed on topic talking about a variety of experiences, relationships, and feelings. Neither did I go off on tangents, need to get reeled in, nor leave feeling in as much emotional pain as when I went in. Even with good therapy, that happens sometimes.

Returning home, I continued reading and writing from chapters in the book by Charlotte Kasl called If The Buddha Got Stuck. In the Step III – Pay Attention exercises, I wrote about my core limiting beliefs, behaviors that reflect those beliefs, and the personal costs of these behaviors.  What I wrote about is not new to me. However, the process of writing them down again helped move me from an intensely painful internal realm into an analytical and objective realm. I saw more objectively how I get in my own way and, more importantly, how I could get out.

Just like that, I was out of my head. I was present in a way that I had not felt for some time, at minimum during the last couple of weeks. My mind was clear, thinking was easier, and I was more in touch with my feelings.

I was finally able to tell my husband that I’d been needing a getaway for some time, but had felt unable to share it with him. Guilt over wanting to spend money crushed me. I couldn’t speak it. But now, out from under the shame and guilt, I spoke. I also requested that we spend Saturday exploring in New York together. We journeyed to Governor’s Island via Brooklyn, and had dinner on Atlantic Avenue. On Sunday, I restrung a bracelet, started on a new necklace, unwound a too-short Kumihimo bracelet, and ordered a few needed supplies.

Today, I kept time wasting down, made the bed, fixed lunch and washed the dishes, washed a litter box, and then prepped to come outside to read more from the Buddha book, to write in my journal, and to write my blog post.

Whew! Talk about a productive three days.

This level of productivity occurred because the energy I had been using to ignore how badly I felt was released. Immediately, the things I had been wanting to do came up, and I did them, without any further thinking.

My therapist said that, when I catch my thinking going down a familiar, negative path, I can try to be aware of it happening in order that I may choose another path. I’ve done this acknowledging and choosing before, so I know that it will happen again. Unfortunately, I can’t always keep the best lessons I have learned in mind. I forget them, and, in doing so, have to learn them all over again. One of these days, I hope that they stick.


Lessons in Becoming Unstuck

For my artist date this week, I went out on my own today, taking the bus to a place I have never been, to a place where I have never gone alone, and met new people. I am saving that post for tomorrow.

Whenever I am stuck, it boils down to one obstacle: a deep-seated fear. My adult life has been devoted to uprooting my fears so that I can move on. Luckily for me, a 2+ year stint with a therapist trained in ACT therapy, IFS, and EMDR helped me thaw a number of fears so that my real feelings could find natural expression.

In my family system, I was taught to fear a great many things: people, places, and experiences; things I could control and things I couldn’t; things inside myself and, especially, those from without.

My father used to say, “Don’t tell people to go to Hell. Tell them to go to Brooklyn.” Ask anyone in my family about the borough of Queens and the answer would boil down to, “Don’t go there. It’s dangerous.” Not – “Well, if you go here, you should be fine. Keep an eye out for this. Avoid this.”

The message I heard over and over again were, in essence: Trust no one. Go nowhere. Do nothing. I have lived my life in a terrified state. How could I not? A lot of health issues and my birth order contributed even more reasons for my family to be afraid for me.

But I have done a lot of fighting against it. The thing is, fear isn’t something you can fight against. Fighting feelings never works. Not for me, anyway.

This morning, I avoided my morning plans (shower, eat, write, and go) by helping my mother. When that was done, I missed the first bus I could take. And then I did it: I took my first step towards getting me unstuck.

Unstuck Step #1: I acknowledged that my plans scared me. I acknowledged that, by getting on the bus to start my adventure, I would be going outside my comfort zone and that it would be a bit scary for me.

Unstuck Step #2: I took one small step to remove an obstacle that stood in my way – I made a phone call to find out when my mother’s car would be ready. I have to run some health-related errands for her. One of my excuses not to execute my plan was that her car might be ready soon. So I called the shop and found out they would do more testing in the afternoon. Hurdle eliminated!

Unstuck Step #3: I got on the bus. Once my adventure started, I decided to read to pass the time. After a few pages, I put the book away and decided to watch the neighborhoods unwind by me.

Trees were out in full bloom today – white and pink cherry blossoms, flowering pear blossoms, and green shoots opening up on the ends of tree branches. In a tree grove I passed full of these blossoms, five wedding parties were getting their pictures taken. The day was mostly cloudy, but with enough sun coming through that I got my first bad sunburn on a cloudy day. Ever.

I enjoyed my day, with its treasures and warts, and learned (again) some important lessons:

Unstuck Lesson #1: Acknowledge all your fears.

Unstuck Lesson #2: Take a small step to move your plan forward.

Unstuck Lesson #3: NYC is awesomely huge. With this lesson come mini-lessons:

  • Try to learn about neighborhoods before you go so you can explore.
  • Use a backpack, not a purse.
  • Plan to stay the day.
  • Bring snacks & a bit of water.
  • Pack your go bag the night before.

With enough experiences like I had today, I am hoping that my unstuck lessons will become as deeply learned as the way I learned to be afraid. If that happens, I will have to find other interesting writing topics.


Artist Lesson Learned

No matter what path you choose, lessons present themselves to you all the time if only you take a moment to listen and reflect on what is happening. I learned something today that I have not understood before today, one that is vital to artistic development.

Yesterday, I felt ill. I did not do my morning pages, I did not write in my blog, and I did not progress in either of my two stories that I am working on. After I felt well enough, I decided to do the pages “later”. Later became not at all.

Also this week, I did not do a single writing exercise in The Artist’s Way for week 7. I almost failed at my artist date until I decided to spend my artist date making myself breakfast muffins and a hot pot of decaf coffee.

I thought about how much time each day that I spend on these activities. An hour or more. And I did nothing yesterday for writing work, which only showed me how important doing writing every day and spending a lot of time doing it is critical.

I finally understood how my childhood friend Antoinette could spend hours every day practicing the violin. I extended that to all musicians. Now I understand why they do practice constantly, why it becomes their life.

It becomes their life because they love it and want to do it and because the only way to get any good at it is to spend your time doing it. A lot of your time. I get it now. Call me a late bloomer, but I am glad I understand now. Now is not too late. Now is now.

Today I am getting ready to go into NYC to meet my husband for dinner and then I am going to a publishing seminar. Tomorrow I will spend most of the day at the creativity side of the seminar, get to meet Julia Cameron, and have her sign my book! Huzzah!

I have torn out a few pages in my morning pages book so I can do it tomorrow morning. I will write in my blog about it when I get home tomorrow night, even if it’s a short post. Now I know, I really know, what it is I must do and why.


3 Important Things to Learn About Life From These 3 Actors

When we see the end result, we think that is all there is

In my post yesterday about the book The Longest Way Home by actor, director, and travel writer Andrew McCarthy, I admired how he shared his inner dialog and reveal his human flaws. I am inspired by those who are able to move beyond their inner struggles and find a way to release their souls and desires out into the world. In this book, Mr. McCarthy shares whatever messy, unformed, and unflattering thoughts and actions he takes. This itself takes a kind of courage that few possess. Continue reading