Struggling through a story arc

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now. Oh how naive I was when I believed the “you can write your memoir in six months” mantra. I think the mantra was given with good intentions and the highest of hopes, but it just hasn’t played out that way and I think part of the reason for me is the story arc.

As someone who loves words and stories, I feel compelled to give myself a story that makes sense. I want to avoid just vomiting out a string of events and facts and circumstances in a strictly chronological way. That’s boring and it is not transformative.

At its most basic level, I believe memoir writing should be a healing of self first, and a path of self discovery for the willing reader, second. I’ve read a few memoirs that left me in despair, I think because they were simply a spilling of the facts and not a story that was crafted to move me. On the other hand, I have read some memoirs that were beautiful stories in the hands of expert wordsmiths.

I want – no I need – my life recollection to be a legit story and I have spent years and many tears and much rewriting and head scratching to figure out the underneath meaning, in the on the surface obvious things that have happened. I need it to be this way for me, not to be seen as a competent writer. Though it is always nice to be seen as competent, I’m writing this for me.

I need the story so I can tell myself the story and at the end of it I can nod my head and say, yes, OK, I get it now. I see the thread and while it may not make a perfect pretty bow at the end, I do have closure. I can be at peace.

After a really fun spurt of following the thread of my story that has happened over the past year or so, I am now at a place again where I have kind of lost the thread and I have to dig around through my memories and the data and find it. Sure I have facts and timelines and I know what happened, but I want to know what happened. The good news is that I have more of the story than I have ever had and I am satisfied with it up to this point.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Pulling up planks still, again, forever

I’m working on my planks. When Jesus said to take the plank out of my eye, He knew that if I took it seriously, the task could keep me occupied (and hopefully out of trouble) for the rest of my life. Working on myself means that I really should not have time to focus on the flaws of other people. Jesus said I have a big giant log in my eye but I want to try to pick the speck out of someone else’s eye first. That’s not going to work well.

Isn’t it selfish to think about myself so much? Here’s the thing: I can’t be what others need me to be without this important work of plank removal. As I am processing through whatever it takes to become a better person, I continuously become a better person for those who need me. As I grow closer to the ideal of truly understanding and loving myself, I am better able to genuinely love others. Jesus said I would see better after removing the plank. I’ve found that to be true.

I don’t think it is possible to love others the way they need to be loved unless I am in a mature place of self-love.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

So I have some planks I am looking at this year. Some of them I have been working on all my adult life. Some of them I have only recently discovered. I can’t begin to list all my planks; the thought of that is overwhelming and way too much boring information for this venue. Suffice it to say that there are three general areas of planks that I’m focusing on this year.

Plank area 1: healing old wounds. There are a lot of old wounds that keep recirculating in my life and causing me problems in relating to other people. This is an old, known plank that baffles me at times. I have a lot of work to do in understanding myself and repairing the breaches inside. This year I am taking  a look at Internal Family Systems and embarking on some self therapy using the IFS model.

Plank area 2: physical health. OK, this is another area that is well known to be an issue with me. I’m healthy, I’m just not as healthy as I would like to be or as I should be. I quit smoking 25 years ago and ever since I have battled with my weight. I realize that I simply took away one crutch and replaced it with another. But it’s way more complicated to figure out than that. I’m using the IFS to try to figure out what is going on there as I once again eliminate sugar, increase protein, and keep moving.

Plank area 3: this one is more entertaining than the first two planks, which are not always all that fun. I am exploring my creativity as I try to reconnect to the flow of income in my life. My jewelry making exploits netted me some pretty good cash flow from 2008 until roughly 2013-2014,  shortly after one of Google’s algorithm changes, and I’ve never been able to get back the search traffic I once had. I’ve taken the opportunity to start sewing again, something I’d put away for 20 years, telling myself that it was because of my rambunctious, explorative son who was a highly curious and mobile baby/toddler/preschooler  who couldn’t be kept out of the sewing supplies and tools. Coincidentally, or maybe not, it’s also been 20 years since my mother died. She was the reason I started sewing as a girl. Tying back into plank area 1, I think there may have been a subconscious connection between her death and my laying aside of sewing.

All the planks are connected and I’ve got a lot of work to do. I might never get around to your speck.

Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

Advice: surprisingly, not everyone wants it.

One lesson I have learned the hard way is never to give advice unless I’m asked directly. Believe it or not, people just do not hunger and thirst to have the benefit of my experience or intelligence. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few decades of life to come to that harsh realization.

Do you know how hard it was at first to keep my mouth shut when someone close to me was sharing their problem, dilemma, or challenge? Especially when my kids were confiding in me, it was very difficult to learn to be quiet and listen, all the way, until they are through. And then to still not say anything.

It has gotten easier with practice. But it doesn’t mean I am any less eager to share my tips for life with my people. I just have to wait for the ask. Many times the ask doesn’t come and I have to be content with the role of sounding board, confidant, hugger, and space holder for my dear children, friends, and family.

Every now and then the hoped for question comes: What do you think I should do? Even then, I must tread carefully instead of charging out of the gate with my “wisdom.”

I thought you’d never ask.

Instead, I have to carefuly consider: what does the other person really want from me? Sometimes people just want you to agree with them or support their idea, and that’s OK. It’s hard to figure this out ahead of time, but it helps to know the person well. I try to use past experience and a little bit of MBTI temperament theory if I can.

Very few people ever want to hear the blunt truth about their situation, even after they’ve told you that’s what they want. I’ve blundered into that mistake with a very close friend or two. At the time, I got mad at them because I felt like we had signed up for that kind of friendship but when it came down to it, I found out we hadn’t. Unfortunately, we’ve drifted apart because of our philosophical differences.

I’m not mad at my friends anymore though. I understand that it can hurt deeply to hear someone’s contrary opinion of your situation, and that in theory it seems nice to have the kind of relationship where we can hold each other accountable, but in practice it’s just too scary and painful.

On the flip side, I’m one of the weirdos who wants to be told the truth even if it stings and makes me cry. Even if I retreat for a while into my aloneness to process the information. And that scares people too, especially tribal temperaments like those who use extraverted feeling. I understand and appreciate that.

To everyone who wants to tell me flat out what the deal is, please know that I will value your willingness to share. You can tell me anything as long as you tell me with respect and kindness. I will honor your authenticity and I promise to treat it with respect and honor. Even if I cry a little. Or a lot. I will deeply consider your words of advice, especially if we are close. And if we are close, I will come back and report my findings as authentically as I am able to.

To my children, don’t be afraid to ask me what I would do in your situation. I’ve been through a lot and done a lot of stupid things and I promise I’ll be gentle. It’s not my first rodeo – but if it is, I’ll tell you that too. I won’t expect you to follow my advice. Just let it sink in, add it to the list of ingredients that go into your decision making process. And if you don’t want to hear what I have to say, I promise to be a good listener and hugger.

I am always praying for you and thinking of you.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Hi Mom (A post from the archives)

It’s almost five years since I wrote this and posted it at my other blog.  In  many ways I feel like I am still stuck in the same place. But I also know that I have  made progress in my journey toward wholeness.

When I wrote the post below, I had recently turned 50. In a few weeks, I’ll be 55. Kind of a milestone birthday, one that is arbitrarily dictated by society, but a milestone nonetheless. I am still learning to accept myself as I am.

You could get away with calling me a navel gazer. It’s true. But I believe my introspection helps me to be a better person, which directly accrues to the benefit of my family. That’s really good. And it keeps my belly button lint free.


I’m fifty.

I’m sitting here today having such a hard time doing anything productive. I’m doing a lot of thinking when I really want to be doing. I’m supposed to be writing a book, but I’ve just been thinking about it all day long. Thinking about how unqualified I am. Thinking about how I don’t have enough material. Printing out all the writing I’ve done over the last 15 years to prove to myself I can write 50,000 words for a book. Not believing it. Not buying it. Checking my email, checking my Facebook; checking anything else I can think of to avoid having to write something because I’m so damned afraid and why? Why am I afraid?

Someone said, “life sucks and then you die”. And it’s not really like that; my life hasn’t sucked, but there are elements of it that are disappointing. Kids don’t stay kids. They’re not supposed to, but it hurts when they leave. Youth goes away; whether it is your child or your body. And sometimes, when it is a rainy day and there’s no sun to warm your head, you start to wonder if any of it is worth it. And this is not a good thing to be wondering when you have a book to write that is supposed to encourage, enlighten, and motivate people by the dozens. Or more.

So you reach out to a group of people who are writing books too and you share your insecurity and you get back a comment or two that just make you feel more shitty. And you think, well, should you have expected any different? And it is ok. But you delete your reaching out post and try not to feel inferior all day. And the Mac tells you every hour that it is another hour later in the day and you haven’t done anything yet of value. You wonder what the heck is wrong with you, why can’t you live in the positivity and flow with optimism and… what do you really believe anyway? Maybe, you start to think, maybe the reason you can’t write anything is because you’re trying to be something you’re not. Maybe you’re trying to be all Eckhart Tolle in an effort not to be John Hagee. But maybe you’re somewhere in between and maybe you need to just be that. And maybe it has been far too long since you were just you.

So, hi mom. I just wanted to write you a letter and tell you that I understand how you must have felt. I’m about the same age as you were when all the shit of your life hit the fan and I want you to know that I know how it feels to be this age and to feel like you’ve done some things you wish you could undo. I know what it feels like to struggle with things that you can’t seem to shake. I know how it feels to start feeling the wrinkles and the dry skin and the hips and hurting feet. Oh, and I know how it feels to have teenagers and big flashing billboards flashing in your face about how you failed here, and there, and there. I just wanted to tell you that I understand it must have been supremely difficult. My husband didn’t leave me like yours did. On top of everything else, you had to try and live through that. And I get it. It was really just too hard. I just wanted to tell you that it is ok, I’m not mad at you and I understand. And I love you. Wish we could have coffee together some time.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You’re not falling behind; you’re getting wiser

As I have grown older, I’ve felt the distinct slowing in my being. The world seems to be speeding up all around me and I find myself not wanting to keep up as much as I used to. It takes too much energy to follow every trend and stay on top of new things.

Those fast moving things don’t feel so important to me anymore. I want to be relevant so I listen to all kinds of music and expose myself to new technologies as much as I can stand it. But it doesn’t seem so vital or even very easy anymore.

The pace of life seems so much faster now than it was when I was younger, before technology zoomed us into hyperspeed all the time. I find myself craving a slower pace. I like the move toward slow food and the trend toward disengaging from autopilot. I saw an article about slow making the other day, going back to the older ways of building things and putting things together by hand instead of completely relying on other machines to make it happen.

There isn’t much that can compare, for instance, with a hand tailored suit, where the lapel interfacing is sewn in manually, curved over the seamstresses hand to give it the shape needed to make it a fine garment.

As a writer, I feel left behind some when I look at what magazines are publishing, magazines that I used to write for and feel perfectly comfortable with knowing in my knower what the editor wanted. Now, I’m a bit lost. The topics don’t feel so evergreen to me now, instead they are fleeting and flying by, and they don’t feel so weighty.

As a writer, I find myself gravitating toward more classic themes, like character, old fashioned customer service, the importance of family and self-awareness, natural treatment of disease, and independence.

I just need to remember my pull to the timeless whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by the transitory. It’s going to be OK. I have a lot to offer to this hyperspeed world and I am really settling into my voice. Life is good.

Photo by Maite Tiscar on Unsplash

Do you want a breakthrough in your writing work?

I sure do. I got one this morning. It feels so good to just let the words flow with nothing hindering. What worked for me this time? I think there are a couple of ingredients in this soup.

First, I’ve been working hard on allowing myself to write imperfectly. Normally my inner critic/editor is right there with me, reading as I write, constantly interrupting me with her opinions and directives. This is maddening and makes me give up more than anything else. I’ve been in talks with her to convince her to allow me to just get it all written and then I will hand the project over to her. She doesn’t really want to do all of her editing and criticizing at once. She’s a bit low energy like me and prefers to do it a little bit at a time in real time. But for now she has agreed to step aside. This really helps me to let down my guard and just write.

Second, I’m taking off the masks. I’m not trying to “be good” at what I am doing or make it sound like any certain “good writer” that I’ve read. I am not trying to do it like Jeannette Walls or Ann Lamott or Cheryl Strayed or even Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m going to do it like ME and I don’t care if it doesn’t look the same or look like what a memoir is “supposed” to look like. There’s no law. So I am committing to a.) being myself, right to the bone, and b.) telling the truth, as impoverished as I may think it is. I never made anything up but I did try to make it sound a certain way. Not doing that anymore.

The result? This morning I sat down and poured out 1000 words and could have gone longer but I wanted to get a blog post in before it is time to take coffee to my man. It feels so good. I hope it lasts this time.

What do you do to get the words flowing? Do you ever struggle with your inner critic?

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

 

INFP: develop your extraverted intuition and soar

I get into these crazy spins in life and I don’t know why until I stop and think about it and remember yet again: I’m completely skipping over my secondary function: extraverted intuition.

It’s called a tertiary loop and I do it all the time. A tertiary loop is when you get to spinning between your dominant function, which in an INFP is introverted feeling, and your tertiary function (introverted sensing in INFP).

I become even more introverted, isolated, and sometimes even afraid of the outside world. I am living on the inside of myself, flipping rapidly and radically back and forth between introverted feeling – judging everything in light of my inner values and how I feel about those – and introverted sensing – perceiving everything according to my inner memories of pain, which causes me to withdraw even more.

When I am in a loop, I have stopped considering any possibilities and all I want to do is hide from the outside world.

The only way to solve this problem is to put one foot on the floor to stop the spinning, and then remember about my secondary function, extraverted intuition.

Every MBTI will do well to focus on his or her secondary function. I believe it is the most efficient path to a rapid increase in the quality of life no matter who you are. It is truly the path to sanity and the beginning of wholeness.

In the INFP, making use of extraverted intuition jolts an extreme introvert back into the outside world in a very pleasant way. INFP’s really are possibility thinkers when we remember that we are, and we take a lot of joy in studying our environments for options and new ideas, especially when it comes to creative endeavors.

When I look at the world around me in an extraverted way, it balances me and nourishes my soul in the best way possible. It’s the other side of me and it’s good and necessary. It can feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome at first, especially if I’ve been in a tertiary loop for some time. It’s awkward to poke your head out of your shell if you’ve not done it in a while. However, it doesn’t take long to start feeling good again. It’s worth the effort.

Whenever you hear someone saying they are both introvert and extravert, they are intuitively understanding that just beneath the surface there is a balancing, complementary force. It’s true. None of us are only introvert or only extravert. When we forget that we get into a spin. A loop.

As introverted as I am, a huge, powerful part of me is extraverted – and that is my ability to see possibilities in the world. It’s a blessing.

Do you get into tertiary loops? Or do you have a solid grasp on your secondary function?

If you’re unfamiliar with your MBTI temperament, you can take a free test and start exploring.

 

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

 

The cold shock of meaningful writing

I’ve distilled the source of my happiness and contentment into three daily things: eating right, moving my body, and writing something meaningful. If I do these things, at the end of the day the odds are great that I will be at peace with myself. I like peace.

I want to focus on the meaningful writing. For me that means it can’t be stream of consciousness stuff like morning pages. I have given morning pages the old college try. I’ve done 750words.com for years. I’ve have a few streaks of writing my morning pages by hand as soon as I wake up. I love the feeling of the ink on the page. But no matter how I do the morning pages, by hand or typing, I always end up asking myself, why am I doing this? It is meaningless to me to write to myself about what I am going to do today or how much yesterday sucked.

For me, meaningful writing is beautiful, or it works out a dilemma, or both. Meaningful writing is structured in some way and it is directed and purposeful, not aimless. It leaves me feeling satisfied that I have “done my work” as a writer.

Meaningful writing is not easy to do. It accesses everything that is vulnerable inside me and for that reason it meets with resistance. It taps into the pain and shame of the past, or the insecurities of the future. If I show them who I really am will I be rejected again?

Because of the pain that lurks inside the work of meaningful writing, I find myself dancing on the threshold of it. I long to do it and I need to do it but I avoid it. It’s like how I used to feel as a kid, toes curled over the smooth concrete edge of the swimming pool, half-naked in my suit. I wanted to swim, to dive down and touch the depths while holding my breath, to feel the freedom and weightlessness of the water.

But the water is shockingly cold. I dip my toes in and confirm this. It doesn’t feel good and it will feel worse to be enveloped in that cold. And what if I jump in and my bathing suit dislodges from my body? Old traumatic memories die hard.

So I hesitate. I hem and haw and dance. I go inside and get a snack. I tell myself I don’t really want to swim in this pool. My heart tells me different. I try to shut up my heart. And then I have no peace.

When I was a girl, and I finally screwed up the courage to jump off the side into the chilly clear water, the shock of the cold was striking. It was uncomfortable. I would rise to the surface and draw in a shivered breath. But now that I was in, it was much better to stay in then to climb out and expose my wet skin to the air. I was committed. The cold wasn’t so cold anymore.

So it is with my meaningful writing. I have to jump in to get past the pain. I’ll feel it for a few moments but as I swim and stay with it, the water feels much warmer.

Photo by Léa Dubedout on Unsplash

Going for beautiful broke (a post from the archives)

Sometimes it seems appropriate to pull up an old post. This one was published 3 years ago today on http://tinagasperson.com, my super up close and personal blog. I enjoyed reading it again today, I hope you also enjoy it.

_____________________________________________________________

This morning as I was writing about my life in Tampa thirty years ago and how I met my first husband, I was reminded of how I would so many times allow myself to be carried along by circumstances in such a paradoxical way. Sometimes I had no choice, other times I did, but I never resisted or made a choice for myself for something better. Whatever happened, always happened TO me and I always just let it. I went along what was for me the least resistant path, fueled by my desire to be loved. Yet, my submission to the path was actually a choice for my ultimate good; for adventure and change and transformation. I was carried by that desire into many adventures and experiences that shaped me, hurt me, maybe permanently damaged me, but ultimately led me to the place where I am now, into the person I am now, the person I was meant to be.

The pattern I see is one of relentless searching and discarding, searching and discarding. I was searching for love – I was willing to go anywhere and be with anyone as long as I thought they might love me. I was repulsed by a number of people who I thought loved me and I was willing to push through that feeling if only they would accept me and appreciate me for who I was, who I am. Whenever I realized that yet again I was not loved, I would wash my hands of the situation, jump back into the current of circumstances, and allow that current to take me wherever it wanted to in my search for transformational love. I had no fear of the unknown, no foreboding of danger, no desire to hide and be safe. I only knew I had to keep going. I wasn’t really searching for a mere human love (I thought I was); I was searching for the one true love, the eternal love of my creator, the one who has always known me and always loved me all along; the one who was always with me even when I didn’t know it, always protecting, always covering, always holding, always cherishing.

When I look back on the course of my life, I can see that God was with me always; walking with me, whispering to me, encouraging me to never give up, declaring that the journey I was on would eventually lead me to the love I so desperately wanted. Perhaps that is why I don’t conform to traditional expectations in my faith journey. I know that God does not “follow the rules” in his relentless pursuit of us; he is an adventurer, calling us to journey with him down the beautiful path of dangers. Why should I follow manmade rules? I will not.

We can choose to be safe, to bury our talents as we wait for the master to return, to lock ourselves in a cage of playing it safe, sitting down and waiting, walling ourselves off from a big wide world and all the scary things; or we can choose to risk everything, to live dangerously, to take a gamble, to live a life of beautiful danger with potential disaster around every turn, to invest it all in hopes of a glorious bountiful return. I choose to go for broke in the dangerous beauty of journeying with God. Anyone up for a walk today?

Rustic Pancakes Recipe

We visited IHOP recently and the server encouraged me to try the cheesecake pancakes. I did but unfortunately they just weren’t my favorite taste. I should have stuck with the plain pancakes. But Darin got those and said they weren’t anything special. We both reminisced about some delicious pancakes we’d had on a recent trip to DC – light, fluffy, crispy around the edges..

This recipe is a response. I made these the other morning and they were appreciated by my family. There’s just something special about the rustic flair of this stack. The secret is to fry them in butter, and fresh butter for each group of cakes. Read on to see what I mean.

Rustic Pancakes – makes about 16 4″ cakes

Ingredients:

2 cups self-rising flour
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
About a stick of salted butter

Whisk together the flour, egg, cream, salt, sugar, and 1 cup of water. Add additional water as necessary to bring the batter to a smooth pourable consistency but not too thin. Whisk out all the lumps. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes while your pan is heating.

Heat a sturdy frying pan. I love my well-seasoned cast iron pan. It is perfect for cooking everything and anything, pancakes included. A well-seasoned pan is the perfect non-stick surface.

Heat the pan on high and then turn it down to medium, medium-low, depending on your range. Peel the paper off one end of the butter and rub it on the pan to coat.

Pour out 1/4 cup measures of batter into the heated and buttered pan. Pour out two or three cakes depending on the size of your pan. Cook for about 3 minutes and 30 seconds but lift the edges around 3 minutes in just to make sure the underside is not getting too brown. Flip the cakes and cook for another 30 seconds, then remove to a plate in a warm oven.

Take the butter stick and coat the pan again, and cook more pancakes until you’ve used all your batter.

These are delicious with real maple syrup. No need to add any more butter unless you just want to.