Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with a woman who was feeling insecure in her relationship. Her revelation, and the fact that she was sharing it with me, came as a surprise to us both. I listened with an open heart and a soft gaze. Within moments I was crying. She was taken aback by my tears, as was I. Where were these heavy drops of water coming from? I felt disconnected from them and couldn’t explain their arrival.
I’m crying for you, and for everyone who is feeling this way. I’m crying for everyone who is fearing the worst.
She didn’t know what to say, but her eyes spoke for her. She was afraid of something that hadn’t happened, wasn’t going to happen…unless she fed her fear enough to give it the power to create her worst fear – losing her husband. She was acting as if it had already happened. She also knew that there was no rational explanation for her fear, but there existed many scenarios in her life that could tip bad. Just as they could tip good. The human mind’s tendency to want zero in on the pitfalls, going where it feels it’s needed, feeds the fear, turning the pitfalls into guaranteed outcomes. Because she didn’t speak up, it festered. It left her short-tempered with her husband, creating space between them. She wasn’t seeing the beauty of the life they were creating but how terribly wrecked her life would be if she lost it all, lost her husband.
Thoughts become things.
We all experience times when we feel insecure. Even as I get stronger, feeling more secure in who I am daily, I still feel insecure. It creeps inside without a ripple, setting up house, kicking back, hands behind its head, hoping I won’t notice. And then it coughs up fear all over my core. I shut down. Close myself off. Retreat. With my head in my hands, protecting it from the shrapnel blowing out from the black hole of fear.
I wanted to tell her to let go of the fear, to not feed it. Because if fed it will never leave, like a stray cat. Fear paralyzes, like the sting from a Tarantula hawk, a small wasp that can take down a large, furry arachnid with one bite. Fear is vapor until we give it a sheet to wear. Then it becomes a ghost, haunting us from the inside, convincing us it’s bigger than we are are, when it is simply still vapor under a bed sheet. Fear unravels the connections in our brain, rewiring us to see doom where others see challenges to work through, opportunities to achieve and looks forward to reveling in the successes that are sure to be had.
The words I chose to sooth her were as awkward as our conversation, carelessly strung together and likely created more questions than answers for her. Which may have been the perfect outcome. For me, this conversation stripped away the membrane from a deeply buried part of me that wanted to remain hidden.
That is what I realized this evening as I dried myself off after a swim on a cold Marin night.
I forced myself to go to the pool. It’s cold here now. I have ten-thousand things to do. But if I don’t swim I will not be able to think straight. Just before getting in the car, I picked the tall dude’s bike up off the garage floor, reached through the bars, past the chains, to the kickstand. I grabbed it, and it bit me back, taking off the whole pad of my thumb. Blood streamed down my hand. My finger went numb. But, unfortunately, came screaming back to life, throbbing and burning as if it had been branded by a hot iron. I ran inside and grabbed a waterproof band-aid and a paper towel.
The dudes wanted to see the cut. I unwrapped my thumb and showed it to them as they sat strapped into their car seats.
Oh, Mama, put it away! I don’t want to see that! The little dude discovered the sight of blood made him ill and clamped his little hands over his ocean blue eyes.
Wow, Mommy. You really cut yourself. See? That’s why I ask for emergency kits all the time. So I can take care of you.
The tall dude is obsessed with emergency kits. And with consumerism in general. He’d buy the air we breath for free if someone would sell it to him. I was grateful he talked me into buying the expensive waterproof band-aids, however.
Nothing was going to keep me from this swim. It had been a very strange week. A week that needed a mile in the water to make sense of it all.
With lap one I began pulling the threads. An unexpected and deeply personal revelation during an encounter with a person I barely know about fear, and a conversation the next morning with my attorney, which resulted in me fearing that I wasn’t in control. That others were determining my fate. That The Genius was trying to prevent me from being able to write. That all the talk about women being in the catbird seat in divorce was pure folly. That the contract we signed in our collaborative divorce was already broken twice by The Genius yet no one was making him accountable…for the millionth time in his life.
I paced the kitchen after that call, around the table once, twice, thirty times. My breathing was labored. I felt drained. And that fed the fear.
I’ll sell the house, break even, and if I’m lucky I’ll move into a two bedroom condo. What am I going to do with a ninety pound dog in a two bedroom condo? It’ll probably be wall-to-wall carpeting. The exact thing the shelter said would not work with High Maintenance Kitty. Whatever you do, never leave a rug down because he will poo on it.
Great. My bedroom, AKA the couch, will be central command for his sphincter. Sleep will be rarefied as he’s a nocturnal beast, prone to sitting on my head and getting his needle claws stuck in my nostrils. My back will be wrecked. Which will screw up my mood and my swimming. How am I going to be able to create best-selling magic in cramped quarters, with dudes bouncing off walls that are set far too close to each other, and me apologizing profusely for my ever-barking guard dog who will fear that every other resident is a burglar?
This prick screws me over (sorry, Mom) for four years and he gets the 3 bedroom house while I live in a two bedroom condo, if I score. A one bedroom if I don’t. Cat-bird seat. Yea. Except I’m the bird and I’m staring at the inside of a cat’s stomach.
In the middle of the day I called Ms. Pulitzer, something I never do. She makes busy look like hibernation.
Do you have a minute?
Yea. Call me in 5.
I set the timer and paced some more.
For the first five minutes of our call I unloaded all the what ifs until she stopped me cold. (The following is paraphrased. To get the full effect, know that she was a war photographer. Crisis is her happy hour.)
Look. There’s two ways to see this situation. You can get caught up in the bulls…tuff of square footage and packing boxes or you can look at it as an adventure. You can make it ugly or make it work for you. You can let him have the power or you can realize that he has none when it comes to you, unless you allow it to happen.
You can wallow in the problems or solve them. Who do you want to be? A problem solver or a problem swine?
I half-expected her to say, Drop and give me twenty!
You can let yourself be knocked off course and forever rue the day you gave up on your dreams or you can realize that no one can take your dreams away from you. You have to hand them over, if you so choose.
Do you want to hand your dreams over to him?
Now, this isn’t about HIM. (Just like my conversation with the woman I barely knew wasn’t about her husband cheating on her but about her own fear that she isn’t loveable.) You won’t succeed if you do it to spite him. You’ll succeed because you deserve it and you believe you deserve it. And because you are capable of doing it, so it’s your responsibility to do what you are absolutely capable of doing. You’ll find a home and make it work. It’s temporary. Don’t screw up a completely livable situation by making it something it’s not. You’re not being banished to the cardboard boxes under the overpass.
Be wary of allowing your mind to worry about a situation you fear, because if it gets a free pass to create what you fear, it will create what you fear.
Twice during my opening monologue I winced at my own words. A very large part of me knew that this was the easy way out. Bitch. Moan. Throw up hands. Go ahead, keep using me.
The easy way and the ugly way.
The better way is to forgo the drama and see this as my next Mt. Whitney, my next adventure. When I look at what needs to be accomplish in the coming weeks, it’s all doable. No one’s asking me to write a dissertation on Dark Matter by Tuesday. I have to wrap stuff in newspaper and put it in boxes, pack up clothes, clean floors, paint walls, and get ready to live someplace new. And write. And train.
Then I’ll move and won’t have to cut the lawn, or weed the gardens, or apologize profusely to plants I am not qualified to maintain, who suffer as a result.
I need to pause…
I just realized I feel guilty for never loving this house. On top of that, I see only betrayal when I think about our house back east, the one we built, where we raised our children. That’s unfair to the house. I’m going to think about the times I was in that house alone and alone with the children to keep those memories alive and shining brightly. I am really looking forward to being in a home that has no history with The Genius. As long as it’s not infested with Type A arachnids, I’m cool. A kitten said, This will be a breath of fresh air.
I pulled myself out of the pool, into the 55 degree air, and wrapped up in a frigid towel that was dry, but so cold it felt wet, before sitting on a chair and gazing at a blackening sky. The first stars were burning through the night. I pondered Ms. Pulitzer’s words and the shift they caused in me, as if she were a surgeon piercing and draining a deeply imbedded cyst. I felt cleansed. Her words were direct hits to a small pocket in my core where I wanted to keep a little well-fed fear hidden, just in case I wanted to wimp out. I showed some of it to her and she came at it with a scalpel, cut it free and threw it over her shoulder, all the while telling me to get to work and expect the best.
My thumb ached. It was still bleeding. An image of the Universe and me pressing our cut thumbs together, mixing blood, blew past me. We made a pact. I promised to live up to my potential and the Universe promised that there’s nothing to fear and every reason to smile.
Ms. Pulitzer delivered her Knute Rockne half-time speech to me on Wednesday, November 7th, exactly one year to the day that I searched for the word Love in The Genius’ skype application. As a matter of fact, it was nearly to the hour.
A cycle has come to an end. An intense encounter led to a resurgence of fear which led to a deep cascade of sadness, then help coming from all directions, which stirred my compassion for others experiencing betrayal, leaving me inspired, confident, and happy to be me.
There is nothing to fear. This whole experience will be an adventure, I will allow my adventurous spirit to thrive. I won’t bog it down with what ifs and how will I’s. At this stage, fear is a cop out. A scattered mind is lazy. A mind in control is in the wrong seat. It needs to be looking over my heart’s shoulder. That little pocket of fear that Ms. Pulitzer ousted was malignant and threatening to spread. On the anniversary of the discovery of The Genius’ affair, I let go of the last remaining muck. There’s no more muck.
There’s stuff to do.
And this, this I thought I would never say:
There’s no reason to be cold to The Genius. I can just be me. It’s requires so much less effort.
I am excited to say that I feel proud right now. It feels like I’m living what I write fully, with no hidden snacks of fear or shots of woe-is-me to down. I’m not putting on a game face, I’m game.
That’s exactly what all those squirrels were trying to tell me on Mt. Tam on Monday. They screamed it at me for five hours. But I interpreted their presence as a call to hunker down, stock the pantry, get ready for a callous winter. Because that’s the mind frame I was in. Instead, their message is to…drum roll…
Let go! And play. It’s not about gathering provisions, it’s about flying through the air without fear, landing on a branch with a squeak and springing off, confident another successful landing awaits.
Thank you for your patience as this post percolated. Often they take some time to coalesce. I also want to thank you for the many emails, tweets and comments filled with ideas and love and witty humor. I am forever in awe of your kindness. In the early morning hours on Monday I’ll be looking for meteors that push their way across the sky before bursting like fireworks. The Taurids arrive this weekend, the main act as a sliver of moon looks on from the horizon. I’ve always wanted to see a meteor storm while peeking out of a sleeping bag, the sound of the Pacific like dinner music, there to enhance the overall experience. This weekend the dudes and I will get it done, with cocoa. As we gaze at the sky I will be pondering how blessed I am to live in this most perfect time in our Universe’s history, and how blessed I am to be here with so many remarkable, magical, loveable, beautiful beings.