I’ve been quietly writing poems first thing every morning for a couple of weeks now. I guess, it’s my idea of morning pages, which is a writer thing where you write in the morning. Or maybe like journaling, which is a self-help thing where you get your brain ready for the day.
So, I write a poem in the morning lately.
This morning’s poem is up there.
And I’ve been not-so-quietly writing a hyper-local news blog for about a year now. It gets about 70,000 views every month, which is pretty cool and also sort of amazing since I kind of thought it would get–maybe 100?
And on this Friday, I’m trying to be a bit braver about the things I do maybe too quietly and to not be afraid to go a bit bigger in ambition and voice and focus.
It’s weird to go bigger when people expect you to be small.
This, of course, made me think about expectations.
This woman I met last week did the typical, “Oh what do you do?” as if my occupation defined me. I know! I know! People ask that to make small talk, but I’d so much rather we got to know each other by asking questions like, “Do you talk to birds?” or “Have you ever hugged a tree?” or “Do you believe that dancing in the rain is a cliche, silly, ridiculous, or a must-do whenever it is raining?”
Anyway, she asked me what I did.
I said, “I write novels.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
She asked the next question, which if you are a writer, you know is always, “Have you published any?”
And I got to say, “Yes.”
Shaun yelled in, “She’s an NYT and internationally bestselling author.”
And her other eyebrow went up into that shocked look. I shrugged.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if some of my books randomly made those lists. What matters is that I love stories and creating them and sharing them.
What matters isn’t that I’m now somehow more acceptable because of a bench mark of success.
What matters is that I talk to birds and have definitely hug a tree and think dancing in the rain can be whatever you want it to be.
It’s okay to be big when people expect you to be small. It’s okay to create your art and not have to have it become a “mark of external success.”
And it’s also okay to be small when people expect you to be big.
We get to be who we are. That’s it. Be who you are.
And also I hope you have a great and brave Friday!
Here’s my painting this week. It’s a couple of colors that almost don’t go together. Kind of like expectations and reality, right?
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I tell the story about one of my grandmother’s a lot. She was born in 1896, which means she’d be 127 now if she was still alive, which is kind of staggering. She died in 2001, which if my math is right, means she made it to 104, which is pretty staggering, too. My dad was her youngest child and I was his youngest child by a lot, which is why I’m not 80 right now.
Anyway, my grandmother was about 4-foot-10 and she loved art and books and music and deep thought. She wasn’t a positive person. This was not a woman who would give you a pep talk. Ever. I mean, if you think about it, she’d lived through two world wars and a depression.
She painted. She was embarrassed by her creations and would hide if her sons bragged about them.
She wrote poems. She said they were swill.
But she had this appreciation—this state of awe—for so many things.
She’d see a perfectly formed tomato and tears would come to her eyes. She’d touch her grandchild’s (or great grandchild’s) arm or cheek and marvel at the softness, the texture, the youth of their skin, the clarity of their eyes. She greatly appreciated things—small things and refined things.
A painting by me.
Because she fed a family during the Great Depression in Staten Island, she would wax poetic, in total awe, over butchering a piece of meat and bemoan the state of meat in grocery stores in the 1990s (and probably before that).
According to the Greater Good Magazine, “Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence.”
Every time I put something out (art, a news story, a blog post, a book, even something as simple as a Facebook post), I think of my grammy and how cool it would have been if she could have been okay with not being perfect and with sharing things she might want to share. I remember my little kid self looking at her paintings with awe and reading her poems and trying to understand the mystery in the enjambments and in the lines. I had fierce grandmothers, too. But Grammy Barnard? She was the one who fell in love with the world, one skin touch, one tomato, at a time.
May you feel awe today. May you be brave enough and open enough to let a tomato’s perfection bring you to tears. May you marvel in beauty of skin. May you inhale the world around you and embrace those things that make your understanding a tiny bit bigger.
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When my daughter was little, she was at a preschool and another girl attacked her, knocking her down, roaring like a lion, saying she was going to eat her up. My daughter’s dress was ripped. When I picked her up, the teachers said, “Don’t worry, we talked to the other girl about why she was feeling aggressive.”
“Yes,” I said, “but did any of you talk to my little girl?”
They hadn’t. Not really.
And my daughter never returned to that preschool.
That other girl? She’s all grown up now and still not a nice human being.
It’s lovely to reach out with empathy toward people who hurt others. But it’s equally, if not more important, to reach out to the people who are right there, in that moment, feeling hurt.
That’s something I believe. It’s okay if you don’t believe it, too.
And that’s always been part of what I believe. I believe that we take care of the person who has been hurt first so that they know they didn’t deserve it and so that they know that they deserve care. And then we also take care of the person who did the hurting.
This has a point, I promise.
I went to cover a protest in Northeast Harbor this weekend. The protestors were chill. The three guys working security were chill. Protestors greeted each other with hugs. They called out to my very tall, very white, very walks-like-a-cop husband who was taking pictures, asking who he was. He was taking photos. So was I. But nobody asked me who I was, which was kind of interesting.
Anyway, Northeast Harbor is a place where some incredibly wealthy people live or have lived. It’s a town on MDI near my town of Bar Harbor.
The powerful and the privileged are very much alive in Northeast Harbor. But the thing is that the powerful and the privileged are still just humans. Some of them do things that get protested like Leonard Leo. Some of them don’t.
But what I noticed was how much the protestors believed in what they were doing. They were adamant in what their hearts and brains felt was right. There’s a woman in our town, Annlinn Kruger, she’s the same way. She 100 percent believes that consistently chalking GOOGLE LEONARD LEO will inform more people about Leonard Leo. And she’s truly consistent. And she’s persistent. And even if you don’t agree with her or the protestors who have been going to Leo’s house since 2019 or so, you have to think, “Wow. That’s commitment.”
They remind me of the Stoics like Cato and Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius; some were born wealthy and some not so much. Some are men. Some are women. Some are agender. But they are all there. Committed.
The Daily Stoic had an email out today where it wrote,
“Yet advantaged or disadvantaged, all the Stoics possessed a certain power, a certain freedom by way of their philosophy. The Stoics, rich and poor alike, were equally independent and defiant. They were in command of themselves, they knew what was good and what wasn’t, they knew what was true and what wasn’t and no one–through force or temptation–could make them think otherwise.
“’If you can read in at least one language, then you have this–the tool to educate yourself,’ the great LeVar Burton said before receiving a lifetime achievement Emmy Award last year. ‘No one can hold sway over your mind, your imagination, your dreams if you can read.’ Or as Epictetus said a couple centuries earlier, ‘the educated are free.’”
“A strong mind, a mind that knows how to learn, that knows how to get to the core of things? This mind is stronger than tyrants, than slave owners, than serpent-tongued manipulators. They might be able to throw you in jail or bombard you with disinformation, but they can’t actually get to what matters within you.”
What you believe in is connected to how well you believe in yourself. Knowledge about the world is power, right? But also knowledge of your self is power, too.
What are the maxims and rules that help you get through the day? Do you think about them when you make decisions? Are they engrained in you?
Back in 2013, Paul Hudson wrote for Elite Daily,
“It is not possible to know yourself if you do not know what you believe in. If you do not believe in anything then why are you living? What purpose do you have? Why bother getting up in the morning? If you don’t have maxims that you hold true, that you believe are either the way the world works or the way the world ought to work, then whatever actions you take have no purpose, no direction.
“You’re living a life carved with circular paths — a life that that has no end in sight, only random actions leading in all directions. Our beliefs make us who we are. If you are looking for yourself or looking to recreate yourself, start with your beliefs.”
When I was in college, one of my philosophy professors had us write our own personal credos. I may have been the only person who did the assignment, but I have a clear memory of sitting on the grass outside my four-story brick dorm and writing out all the things I really believed in my little composition notebook. I was too poor for a computer.
I was super into it.
So, how do you do that? How do you make your own credo?
“What kind of person do you want to be? How do you hope others will see you?
What do you want to stand for?”
Another way to go after your own is here. But I think it’s okay to just freewheel it. Write what matters to you. Write who you want to be.
It can help. A couple of weeks ago, someone in our town (most likely one of the protesters and/or her son) wrote a satirical newspaper where they said my hyper-local news blog was milquetoast. I know! Fancy word, right? And I wasn’t offended. I laughed. Why? Well, it was somewhat clever, I guess. I mean, it was a big, fancy word.
But mostly I didn’t care because all my life people have called me timid because I am so focused on being fair and understanding all the facts and ideas from multiple perspectives.
All my life, people have said that I was meek because I try so hard to be as unbiased and kind as I can be (sometimes I fail). That’s just who I want to be. Maybe at some magical day in the future it won’t be who I want to be, but it is who I want to be right now.
And it’s also why I’m not 100 percent onboard with the Argonaut School’s way of approaching your credo. I don’t think what matters is how other people see me. I think what matters is how I see me.
Maybe the questions should be:
How do you see yourself? Are you the person you want to be? What do you stand for? What do you not stand for?
The things we do to other people, the ways we react, can shape us and them. When those teachers took care of the violent girl instead of my daughter, my daughter learned that you can’t depend on authority figures—even the super kind ones—to take care of you when you’re hurt. She ended up being a leader, a captain in the military, an artist, a writer, a friend, an adventurer, a thinker, someone who helps people, but also someone who knows she herself has a whole lot of worth.
I had to work super hard to make sure that she always knew that she was valued and deserved to be cared for. She did that work, too. Now, that’s something is ingrained in her. But it could have gone a really different way.
It’s something to think about at least, right? I hope you have fun thinking about it!
So, I blog over on LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW every Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. I don’t always share those posts over here, so if you’re into it, you can come subscribe over there and hang out. No pressure though!
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Sometimes when my ex-husband was angry and drunk his posture would change. It wasn’t upright with his shoulders back. It wasn’t just that his hands would curl into fists. It was the movement of his arms, the hunching of his shoulders, how his legs suddenly pointed out when he walked, how his chest expanded, how his arms swung.
“He looks like a gorilla,” I would think usually backing up, hands out, placating. “Just like a gorilla.”
It seemed ridiculous to me, a bizarre observation in the midst of a difficult time.
It turns out that I wasn’t all that wrong.
THE STUDY OF EMOTIONS
For a long time people have thought of emotional intelligence as a bit of a soft skill and the study of emotion as not as academically rigorous as other scientific studies.
“Darwin’s basic message was that emotion expressions are evolved and (at least at some point in the past) adaptive. For Darwin, emotion expressions not only originated as part of an emotion process that protected the organism or prepared it for action but also had an important communicative function. Darwin saw in this communicative function a further adaptive value: ‘We have also seen that expression in itself, or the language of the emotions, as it has sometimes been called, is certainly of importance for the welfare of mankind’” (Darwin, 1872/1965, p. 366).
The book she references is from 1872 and its called The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. It was a radical book at the time because Darwin was a radical kind of guy. And everyone else was into creationism while he was pro-evolution.
He basically said that there are 45 emotions and that you can follow their paths back to mammalian behaviors. Emotions were and are, according to Darwin, how we have evolved from primates and mammals.
Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., founding faculty director, Greater Good Science Center, professor of psychology and director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, UC Berkeley E says,
“So dogs show forms of guilt that you might see in humans. Other kinds of species—the primates show threat displays that look like our anger displays, and so on.”
Freud took a couple steps back and said that we just have two main emotions: desire and destruction. Paul Ekman expanded our understanding again and even defined emotional characteristics. Though they feel un-triggered, emotions are often triggered by our brains looking for clues of how to figure out and react to the world.
“And now, in the field, we think that the emotions do a couple of really important things.
The first is, they systematically orient your mind to attend to certain things and to make certain kinds of decisions. Emotions provide a lot of really important information into what we think matters in the current environment, what we think we should do, what we think is of value or worrisome. They guide thought.
And then the second function that emotions serve—and we often lose sight of this, which is that emotions orient action. They move you towards particular kinds of action. When you’re feeling angry in a negotiation, that’s moving you,
Gerben Van Kleef has shown in Holland, toward being strong in the negotiation and making sure you get your way. So this functional view of emotions, that they guide thought in systematic ways and guide our action, actually yields really important insights that I hope you’re self-aware of.
Is there a scientific consensus about, what are the emotions, what are the different states that we should be aware of when we’re at work?
And it’s really interesting.
Because this is a young science, we don’t have the periodic chart of what the emotions are.
What we think of in the field right now is there are about 20 different emotions. There are negative emotions, like guilt and shame and fear and anger and envy and embarrassment, and there are positive emotions, like joy and contentment and gratitude and love, sympathy, awe, and beauty.”
There’s a really cool and easy to understand (bonus!) website from Frontiers for Young Mindsthat explains how emotions work. But basically emotions tend to be studied by breaking apart their building blocks which are:
What happens in your body
What you are thinking, what you’re conscious of
And how your actions and behavior are expressed.
Pretty cool, right? There are other ways of thinking about it and studying it as well, such as mood meters, but for me as a regular non scientist and a writer, I think that those linkages of those three elements help me understand the people I recreate on the page and the people that I just talk to in life.
When we understand a little more about emotion, it can help us as humans with our own emotions, but it also can help us as humans to survive and thrive in our interactions with others and not think, “he looks like a gorilla right now, how absurd,” but to actually take appropriate action.
“Accurately identifying others’ emotions is essential to our social well-being and happiness. The ability to pick up on others’ emotions helps us manage, communicate, and collaborate with them more effectively. Put simply, it enables us to get along better with people in general. The inability or non-conscious choice not to identify how people are feeling can easily lead to conflict and problems. When I was teaching middle school, I noticed this skill deficit in a number of my students. During my first year or two supervising the middle school cafeteria during lunch (I did this for eleven years), students who were the most challenging to manage were often those who didn’t accurately read other students’ emotions, or mine.”
The next step in a better world is probably caring about other’s emotions and having empathy, but to do that it helps to build the skill of identifying that emotion. Funderstanding has some great ideas at the end of that above linked article to do just that.
POSTS FROM LAST WEEK OVER ON LIVING HAPPY (my Substack)
The two women were walking down the sidewalk toward the library, heading toward me. I knew one of them. Everyone in town knows her. I’d met with her a few months ago, confused about why she’d wanted to meet me. Whatever the reason, it was obvious that I’d failed the test the way I do sometimes.
I’d reached out to her again. She never responded. I tried one more time. Nothing.
Maybe her email was chaos. I know mine is. I didn’t worry about it. I tend not to stress about that sort of thing.
And now as she and this other woman walked by, she kept her head down, talking.
Now, maybe she really didn’t see me, but she’s not a woman who misses much. And I saw them and I’m blind in one eye.
However, invisibility was a possibility because on our sidewalk, her friend didn’t move over so that we could go by single file. She bumped into me the way you bump into people in a high school hallway when you don’t like them too much.
Right then: I made an assumption. I assumed that the ignoring, the bump, they were on purpose.
Then I put my foot back on the sidewalk, kept striding like Beyoncé was playing in the background, and shook it off like Taylor Swift, swallowing something unspeakable, a tiny bit of pain that comes from not being ignored, but also disrespected, that feeling that some people give you when you realize that they wanted something from you and you didn’t provide it and now you aren’t worth sharing the sidewalk with.
But that’s an assumption—a horrible assumption. I have no idea about their intents.
It could have been something totally different, something that had nothing to do with me but with whatever they were talking about, engrossed in. They could be suffering in ways I can’t even imagine. So, they can have the sidewalk if they need it. It’s okay.
Here’s the thing that’s bigger than those two women and me. It’s hard sometimes to only be seen when someone wants something from you. It’s hard sometimes to be ignored. And that may not be what happened with me and that woman, but it happens all the time to people.
That breaks my heart. We’re all better than that. We all can be.
Real connections are important, those kinds of connections that stay hard and fast and true, the kind that don’t create unspeakable feelings that you have to gulp down, but the kind that you get to sing out, strong and true. You can’t get those if you choose not to see other people.
In this world, we have so many choices to see, to really see, other people beyond labels, beyond the bubbles of our own experience and our wants. We can choose to be cheerleaders, leaders, friends, bailsmen, helpers, students, teachers, people who give others a second chance or even a third one. And we can choose not to.
So, the next time I see that lady, I’m going to loudly say hello. That’s what being brave can be about, right? Being seen. And seeing others, too, even when they don’t see you any longer.
Here is my chaotic painting. Color is mixed. Technique is mixed. There are no angels in it yet. But there will be, somewhere, seeing.
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There’s a story I tell about our dog, Scotty, who was a rescue and a hero kind of dog. Em calls him “the best dog ever.” He had bullets still inside of him when we got him, shrapnel. He was kind and chill and super loving, protective when he had to be, but consistently a great lover of other dogs and strange people even though someone had once shot him.
One time, Scotty, Sparty, and I were walking in Glen Mary Woods (a tiny patch of woods in our town) when a golden retriever barreled over and tried to take out Sparty, teeth snapping, haunches raised.
Sparty dropped, submissive and shaking.
Scotty, instantly whipped into action. He pulled the other dog’s attention to him, got him off Sparty and then stood there sideways, body always between me and Sparty and this dog as the dog lunged and growled and feinted and lunged, hitting Scotty multiple times.
Scotty did the minimum he had to do aggressively to keep this dog away from us. We all survived with minimal physical damage. Psychological damage though? That was a bit different.
After that, Scotty always looked at approaching dogs that he didn’t know sideways, no longer just expecting them to be awesome and kind and ready to romp. He lost that bit of his happy go lucky.
I always tell that story because Scotty is so heroic in it. But lately I’ve realized that though Sparty didn’t have the doggy krav maga skills to fight off that other dog, he did something else heroic. He does it every day.
Sparty chooses not to be afraid. When we go out on walks, I never worry about Sparty being mean to humans or dogs. He’s not reactive. He’s the master of the chill.
So, while Scotty learned to be suspicious and a little wary of strange dogs, Sparty? He has chosen not to be. You can literally see him get excited (think full body wiggle) when he sees dogs, not as strangers, but potentially friends.
This happens even though he was the one who was attacked.
Our puppy Pogie is the opposite and we’re trying to work her through that, but I just keep thinking about Sparty and how he chooses not to judge, not to be afraid, until he has to.
That’s a pretty powerful way to be.
So, here’s to all the Spartys in this world who focus on seeing good.
And here’s to all the Scottys who sacrifice and take the hits so that the Spartys don’t have to.
And here’s to you if you’re a Scotty or a Sparty (photos below) or somewhere in between.
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It is always a little terrifying for me to put myself out there. I met a local man last night and he shook his head and said, “I like to fly under the radar, you know?” His suit coat was off. His tie was still on. He made a motion for an airplane with his hand. “Whoosh, right under it.”
I do, too.
And earlier this week, I talked to a woman who was telling me things they were going through at her company as they tried to do kind things.
“No good deed goes unpunished, right?” she said this with a half-frown and a half-smile.
Another woman said to me, “I know you are close to this man, but he is a snake. A snake!”
Full disclosure: I’m not close to this man, not in the way she meant. I’ve never even been to his house. He has never been to mine. We’ve never been in a hotel room together. Cough. But he has hugged me. A lot of people have hugged me. I’m good with that. I like hugs.
“Everyone in town,” she said, “knows this man is a snake.”
Another full disclosure: Once after a Rotary meeting, I held the door open for the governor who had just spoken. He engulfed me in a hug. We’re not close either. At all.
There are a lot of songs about small towns in country and rockabilly music, about life within them, about trying to breathe in them, about the goodness in community and everyone knowing your business, and about the bad apples that make you feel during politically divisive times that talking to someone might not hold your political views is a crime. That having a Facebook friend who holds alternative views on something like short-term rentals or cruise ship visitation is a crime. That when someone hugs you or fist-bumps you after a meeting, it means you are besties
It’s not. Not yet anyway.
Another day this week, a woman I know said, “I love this place, but sometimes I wish—I wish that I could just pull up my hood, put on some dark glasses, and be anonymous. But these people, they do. They find you.”
And another day this week, I talked to a woman who said almost the same exact thing, a lovely, amazing cool woman full of humor and goodness.
All these people who want to hide? They are good people. I don’t know everything about them. I don’t know what makes their hearts hurt, what keeps them up at night, what they’re proud of or ashamed of or what they yearn for, but I love them. I hardly know them. I love them anyway. Someone this week teased me and said, “Carrie, you pretty much love everyone.”
That’s true, I told them, until it isn’t.
Yesterday, a woman came up to me and told me that an event I’d just held was horrible. That’s how she started the conversation. “It was horrible.” I said I was sorry to hear that and asked her why and how I could have made it better. She gave me reasons that were the same exact reasons that other people had told me it was a great event.
What a cool lesson, right?
She offered me insight right there and showed me how different her take was. It hurt even though it was the opposite of so many other people’s views, but it was good to know who she was and how she felt. Here’s the thing I always have to make myself remember: People are always going to have their own likes and their own takes. People are always going to have their own logic and their own feelings. Even when you want to hide, go whoosh under the radar, huddle in your sweatshirt and sunglasses, some people are going to find you and tell you what they think and sometimes they will think awful things that are fiction about you or others or even themselves.
That’s especially true when I think of the three shiny people I mentioned before, the people who want to hide. The more you are out there, the more feedback you get: good and bad.
The other thing is that you can reach out when these things happen, talk it through, and remember you aren’t alone. Some really brilliant and kind people helped me with that last night. I was brave enough to reach out to them (something I have a hard time doing because I’m used to being the one who helps) and they were brave enough to reach right back and help me in mama bear and papa bear ways. How cool is that? It’s so cool! And that wouldn’t have happened without that lady. And for that? I am so grateful.
This painting might look vaguely familiar. I posted it last week I think, but I didn’t like it. There was something wrong. So, I started working on it some more–reframing it just like I’m reframing my experience last night. It’s rough and color is trying to break through and there is chaos and there is hope. And that’s what I’m working toward, too.
That’s all I have this Be Brave Friday. Maybe be brave with each other. Maybe be kind to each other. Maybe be kind to yourself, too.
And if you choose to fly under the radar or right through the turbulence? It doesn’t matter. Just freaking fly. Don’t let anyone stop you. Just fly.
Sometimes you know that your life is a prison, but you can’t figure out why. Maybe something has made you trapped — responsibility, bad health, a pandemic, bad weather, anxiety.
That’s how I felt on Thursday when Shaun told me that the housing inspector was coming to our home that we live in, which also has a vacation rental permit for the years where I don’t make enough to make me feel safe enough to not rush off and live in a camper to rent our house to strangers.
That’s not happening this year. It hasn’t happened for a couple of years, but it lurks over me. A threat. A possibility I could return to only now there are two dogs, four cats, a snake, a kid, a husband.
So, when he said the inspector was coming to check on things — a totally nice guy — I panicked. And I felt trapped. There was no escape. I had a bunch of deadlines and a house that wasn’t perfect.
“The house is a sty,” I yelled.
“Baby girl, the house is not a sty.”
“A pig pen!”
“Baby girl — ”
“There is dust on the stairs. There is a paper towel on the counter. There is a ripped blanket on the sofa! I need to clean the toilets!”
“He is not going to look in the toil — ”
“Oh my banana bread! The kitty litter boxes!” Full disclosure: I did not yell “banana bread.” I yelled something else.
I frantically cleaned, mumbling, “It’s a mess. It’s a sty. It’s a mess.”
And Shaun said, “Baby, nobody would think this house is a sty but you.”
“I am slovenly!”
“No. No, you aren’t slovenly.” He stressed the word like he thought it was funny and then saw my glare apparently and paused. “Is that what matters? That you feel slovenly?”
Yes. Yes, it was. I felt like a slob and I needed to escape that feeling. I felt like I’d been too busy working and living and going biking with Em who was home for the week to notice the dust on the stairs. To be fair, it wasn’t dust. It was dog and cat fur that decides every day to collect like tumble weed and sit in wait on the stairs.
I grew up in a family where we cleaned as a family every Saturday and put away laundry and dishes and clutter every single day. Beds were made. Pillows fluffed. Clothes did not wait like Shaun’s shorts do, folded on top of the dresser. They were in the drawer. I am a relic of this past, of making sure that even though we weren’t rich, we weren’t filth. Those moments of control over our house’s cleanliness were sometimes the only bits of control we had.
My house would not have met my family’s inspection. I had a tea mug on my desk, for banana bread’s sake. The shed in the back has some sort of green stuff growing on it. Pollen maybe? Dirtying the sides.
The inspector came over. He did not lift up the toilet seats. And when he was gone, Shaun said, “He said we had a really nice house four times.”
“He did not.”
“You’re lying to make me feel better.”
“I swear. Four times.”
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what we have, you know? Sometimes, it’s really easy to slip into a space where you worry about being judged even by super nice people. Sometimes, it’s hard to move past the things that cut so quick and so deep — like being pretty poor in a town full of pretty rich.
My town is like that now, too. On my way back from a chamber event, I stopped and talked to a couple people who were running for office. There were funny and kind. They worked hard. One talked about all her jobs, about hoping to find a new room to live in, about hoping that soon seasonal workers wouldn’t have to crash in their cars and that more year round workers could find year round places, too. I fell instantly in love with both of them.
Today, I took a break in work to scrub at the pollen (or whatever) that was on the fence, on the shed in my backyard. I have pretty wimpy hands, so they ache about this sort of thing pretty quickly.
But I realized just then just how lucky I was to have a house, about how excited both of those cool women could potentially be to have a shed to wash, to have a place to call their own, to have that housing stability where you didn’t have to worry about a landlord. But also, how grateful I am that they have someplace at least. But damn, I want them to have somewhere better. I want them to be able to freak out about their house being too something or other. I want them to be able to paint walls, to make plans and improvements if they want — to have that stability if they want. Housing insecurity is big and it’s real and as property taxes increase, it’s happening to people on fixed incomes, too, or people like me who don’t have a set salary, who wonder if they’ll have to take off to a campground or a boat or a tent or something in the summer to make ends meet.
My house is not a prison. My house is a gift and a blessing that I worked really hard for and that I have to appreciate while I have it. What was a prison was my way of looking at it. I made that prison. Me. And I’m feeling that way about the painting below (that negative way), but I’m trying to push past that and post this anyway.
So, here’s to finding security when it comes to shelter and it comes to our own brains, and to breaking free from those prisons we construct for ourselves.
Marsie: You’re afraid of failing, of being vulnerable, of exposing yourself to the world, am I right? Or worse — What if nobody even notices you? Or worse — What if there is suddenly no catnip in the house?
Me: How do you know so much?
Marsie: I am a cat. Therefore, I know all things. Plus, I know about fear. But I don’t care. I live my life. Look at this photo. I am on the dog bed and right there — it is the evidence that the dogs destroy things! That was a perfectly good owl toy and it is dead now. That dog has jaws of steel and could eat me in a second for daring to be on her bed. But do I care? No! I still claim the dog bed. You, human, need to claim the dog bed.
Marsie doesn’t understand that sometimes it’s hard to claim the dog bed. I wrote about this on Instagram awhile ago because I was thinking about one of my grandmothers.
She wrote so many poems and made so many paintings that she never let anyone see.
She couldn’t handle the scorn. But she couldn’t NOT create things.
She was afraid of the ocean, thought it was this massive, beautiful deadly force.
Men can be like that too sometimes, she told me. I don’t know why we are expected to be so strong. Why must we be so strong and vulnerable?
I was like ten when she asked me that so I didn’t have an answer.
This painting is inspired by one of her paintings that she left unfinished. I don’t know if she had copied the original or if it was her own, but the woman walking across a realistic earth, approaching the sea all huddled and afraid and then reaching out for the unreal sky makes me think of her. Afraid but reaching out.
I am not an artist. I have absolutely no training at all except for a high school art class, but all I want to do is paint.
I am not a great philosopher, but still I’m compelled to share what I think.
I sound like a Muppet and slur my s’s, but still I’m making podcasts and I’m in charge of a really intensive online writing class that forces me to talk on video to 12 people every month. And the whole time I think — I am so afraid to do this. People will hear my voice and laugh (not in a good way).
All these things scare me so much.
And every time I write a book, I think:
What if nobody reads it?
What if nobody likes it?
But life and creating is all about vulnerability. It’s about saying yes to experiences even though it’s so scary. Yes, just writing a blog post is scary to me because it’s vulnerable. You can do that, too.
Really. I’m not very exceptional at all, but I try to become better. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I have to make my cat talk to have a blog post, but that’s okay. Because it’s something.
You are something, too.
So, maybe think for a second:
What is it that makes you vulnerable?
What is it that makes you scared to say ‘yes’ to things?
Because here’s the thing (cue meditative Stuart Smalley music from that ancient SNL skit): You are enough. You are good enough and real enough and authentic. Your story matters.
And if other people don’t see it? Their loss. What matters is that YOU see it.
Marsie is right about that. Not so right about the cat nip.
Seriously, this is what happens when you have too much cat nip.
injustice often came from not taking care of the earth and then not taking care of each other.
This year, I’ve been talking to a lot of people that I used to be a little afraid of.
And it’s been?
It’s actually been lovely.
People that I was intimidated by, I now message on Facebook.
People that I would stress about seeing because they had no problem telling me uncomfortable truths? We talk on the phone.
People that were so beautiful and confident that I would sort of gawp at and run the other way? We smile and talk now. We make eye contact during meetings when other people are being dorks.
And this? It’s kind of a beautiful thing and a lucky thing. It’s all just because I stopped being a wimp and started just going into everything I’m afraid of with the goal of being nice no matter what.
Tomorrow is the tenth year anniversary of Richie Havens’ death. This man was a talent, an enhancing talent, but also someone who spent a lot of his life making the kind of music that preached love and kindness for each other and the environment.
Next week it will be the tenth anniversary of my little hobbit dad’s death. He was no Richie Havens, but he, too, dedicated so much of his time in love and kindness for other people, for the environment, breaking into song or whistling because the music of the world meant a lot to him and was a part of him.
And both of them seemed as if they could be skeptics; they were comfortable and familiar with unease.
And I think both of them believed (at least at some point in their lives) that injustice often came from not taking care of the earth and then not taking care of each other.
Today, I decided (again) that I need to rededicate myself to humanhood – to the hope that I can find a way to see everyone as part of a great, big human system that we are all in together.
There is magic in the earth. But it has to be tended to.
There is magic in humanity. But it has to be tended to, too.
I am tired of enemies. I am tired of thinking in a way that makes other people enemies or the earth, an enemy. I want a world that doesn’t have that, yet I still think that way sometimes. Recently, someone who has some issues and has been kind of mean to me, asked me, “How can you still be nice to me? I don’t understand how you can still be nice.”
It’s the only way I want to be. And, I TOTALLY fail at it sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop trying. I want a world of nice, or magic, or tending to, a world where we celebrate each other being brave even when the result is sort of a mess (like my sketch below).
I can’t control anyone else, but I can at least partially control myself, so I’m going to try.
I’ll call it the Nice Experiment. It’s starting now. Fingers crossed that I’ll do okay with it. Fingers double crossed that people like Havens and my dad are still here, paying homage, creating music with words and thoughts and guitar riffs and hobbit voices (my dad, not Havens) that matter.