Owning Up to The Things That We Know to be True

Why do we work so hard to talk ourselves out of knowing the things that we know, deep down, to be true?

Original photo by einalem on Flickr

Original photo by einalem on Flickr

This week, I went to an interview for a job I didn’t want. Why did I do that? Money. I’m in that awesome (note sarcasm) position as a self-employed American where I make just enough to owe enough in taxes that I need to make more money so I can pay my taxes. It’s a lovely (note sarcasm) cycle.

And I’m tired, you guys, of the hustle, of running my own business. It sounded so lovely, to just go clock in and clock out somewhere for a while, get a paycheck. So uncomplicated.

Except of course it isn’t. Where is this magical, fairytale job where we clock in and out, then leave feeling energized enough to parent and write the Great American Novel? (Or, in my case, the Great American Blog. With book potential.)

So I go in for this interview, but here’s the thing: The woman who is interviewing me has read this blog. And so, she’s seen me. And she looks at me, with these beautiful, clear blue eyes and an un-makeup’d face — she was gorgeous, really — and says, “Do you really want this job?”

And of course, I said, “No.”

And so then we got to talking, and we poured everything out on the table. How she’s had an awakening in the past year, about what bullshit it is to work 12 hour days, checking her phone constantly in the “off” hours… how now, she is drawing lines in the sand. The steps she’s taking. The self-care group she’s a part of. The coach she’s working with. The change she’s seeing, in herself, and in those she manages, who see her not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

I tell her about the work I’ve done with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is dedicated to building a “culture of health” (I love that phrase), and she loves it too, and writes it down on her notepad.

And I am struck, not for the first time in recent months, by how important it is for women like us to walk the walk. Women who have been granted privileges and traditional forms of power. For us to say, from our podium, however small, and to our community, however small: This is what I believe. This is what I know to be true.

If this woman, let’s call her Diane, hadn’t spoken her truth to me, there in that interview, hadn’t opened up and set aside artifice, we would have wasted an hour of our time. Instead, we buoyed each other.

She’s thinking of moving. Downsizing. There’s this artsy small town she and her husband love (boy does this sound familiar, boy can I relate). She has school-aged kids, so the traditional narrative says, “Keep them where they are, don’t take them away from their friends.” But then, everyone’s always saying how resilient kids are, how the stability of mom and dad is the most important thing. Maybe in today’s world, learning how to make new friends in new places is actually a life skill. Maybe if mom and dad want an adventure, their offspring would enjoy it, too. Maybe everything about the scripts we grew up with is ripe for the rewriting…for improvisation.

Because the world is changing. Our parents weren’t expected to check their email after hours. There was no such thing as “remote employees.” Our world is being rewired and yet it’s still so tempting to think the norms we grew up with are written in stone.

With this in mind, I am going to speak my truth, stripped down, here, for you, today. I am going to tell you some things that I know, when I get real quiet and listen to myself, and don’t try to push the truth away:

I am supposed to be living somewhere with a much lower cost of living and writing full-time. Maybe, probably, it’s the Hudson Valley. Maybe it’s Chicago, where I could also really grow and develop as an improvisor.

For those who only know me through this blog, these truths might not sound very surprising.

And for those who do know me, it probably isn’t very surprising, either. “Amanda wants to write more. Stop the press.”

But for people who know that I just overhauled my life to be in Washington, DC, where the cost of living is decidedly not low…who see me building my business, Good Things Consulting… for these people (myself included), it might feel like, “Wait, what?”

Life is not uncomplicated (obvious statement of the day). I want to be near the people I love in Washington, DC, and near the people who love my daughter dearly. I just moved back here for that express purpose and it means so much to me. I walk around feeling this warm, invisible hug.

But.

But the economics of DC, and of the surrounding suburbs, are not conducive to devoting one’s life to writing. And writing is truly what I feel I was put on this earth to do.

I am tired of squeezing it into the off hours. As Toni Morrison said (and I’m paraphrasing), I don’t think we should give ourselves such big A-pluses for squeezing writing in around the housework. I am running so fast that this week it seriously occurred to me, “I need a personal assistant.” No, I don’t. What I need is less financial pressure. And the easiest way to get that is to live somewhere cheaper.

I began this post by asking, “Why do we work so hard to talk ourselves out of knowing the things that we know, deep down, to be true?”

The answer, of course, is fear. Fear of what other people will think — fear of hurting them. I am terrified that family members and friends reading this who live in DC will be so disappointed to learn that I’m even thinking of not staying here forever. I am afraid of breaking my parents’  or in-laws’ hearts. I am afraid that if we move again, even in a couple of years, people will think I am flighty. I am afraid that moving would be hard on my daughter, that one day she’ll be on a therapist’s couch saying, “And then my mom kept making us move.”

I am afraid of a lot.

But I am also afraid of what will happen to me if I allow myself to be ruled by fear.

And I am empowered, by my meeting with Diane, to remember that we need each other to walk the walk. To live true, authentic, bold lives. Because it empowers others to follow suit.

As Marianne Williamson put it,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I don’t know what I’m going to do.

But I know that I am going to stop acting as though this truth — that I want to write full-time — is not the full, 2,000% truth of my life.

What truth do you know deep down, that you push away?

Wanna join me in finally owning that shit?

I’m here to listen.

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8 thoughts on “Owning Up to The Things That We Know to be True

  1. Beautiful, Amanda. Honest. As I read this, I imagined you standing on stage and announcing to the crowd below who love and need you to be you so we can be ourselves.

    Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned in a speech I saw today something I think Brene Brown said (follow that train): crestivity is not benign. If we don’t use what we’ve been given, it becomes a burden weighing us down. We carry a heaviness that is the part of ourselves that we have ignored, put aside, told that we can’t.

    Please keep writing!!! You have a gift and we need you to share it.

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    • "Creativity is not benign." That is very interesting. All roads point toward Brene Brown these days so I suppose I ought to read one of her books. Thank you for being such an incredibly friendly, supportive face in the proverbial crowd and for "getting it" (and me). xo

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  2. I love this. I think that you should write. Just do it. It’s obviously something you’re passionate about, and you’ve got clarity about it.

    Don’t worry about moving, if that’s what you need to do. Kids ARE resilient.

    And letting fear run the show? Don’t. Do. It. You know damn well that’s no way to live.

    I agree that in a perfect world, writers would just have hours and hours of uninterrupted time to stare at their computer, write a bit, go for a walk and observe the world, and then head back to their desks. However, I don’t think that’s how it’s worked for the vast majority of writers throughout history. So perhaps you can console yourself (a little) with the fact that you’re in excellent company. Then you’ve got more choices. Because honestly? Unless you’ve got a trust fund or a lottery payout, you’re probably going to have to work. Most writers don’t make a living from writing for a good long time. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones to hit a grand slam straight out of the gate, but that’s got it’s own pressure.

    Nobody ever feels like they have enough time or money to do everything they want. (Well, unless you’re a super-rich person. Then maybe.) There are also pros and cons to every living situation. Moving to a lower-cost-of-living locale might indeed give your more time to write, but then you might be out of the publishing community networks, so selling your work might be a challenge. Or you might find yourself living somewhere where it’s very hard to make that monthly nut you need to live. See: college towns with super-low-unemployment and nothing but service industry jobs/low-paying non-profit jobs if you don’t work at the university. (Not that I know anything about that. Ahem.). One likes to imagine that they will just work with clients remotely, but that doesn’t always go so well, either. (Not that I know anything about that! AHEM.)

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    • Great points. Thanks Jessica. I always think of William Carlos Williams, the doctor/poet, or Wallace Stevens, the insurance lawyer/poet. Interestingly, those are both men… I don’t know if they had kids, but if they did, it was during an era when they had no childrearing responsibilities. I need role models of modern women who are parents, earn $ and have a rich writing life. Got any??? I know there must be many, but truly, from my vantage point, it feels like something’s gotta give.

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      • Well, there’s always ye olde "J.K. Rowling was a single mom on food stamps with her kid in a stroller" story when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and taught university courses and and wrote while raising her two sons.

        These seem relevant: http://martamaretich.com/the-new-reality-of-the-writers-day-job/

        http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2013/dailyrituals/isthekeytobecomingagreatwriterhavingadayjob.html

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10116709/Motherhood-is-no-threat-to-creativity-author-Zadie-Smith-says.html

        http://cariluna.com/writer-with-kids/ – this one may be especially good, because she has a whole bunch of follow-up interviews "Writer, With Kids: INSERT WRITER’S NAME"

        –Are you a Brene Brown fan? I’m reading her new book, "Rising Strong" (which plays very nicely with "The Gift of Imperfection" and "Daring Greatly"…if you haven’t read them, you should get them, too!), and I think you’d like it a lot. And hey: Brene Brown – she’s in academia full time, writes and does speaking engagements…and she has kids.

        I think that the idea of "having a ball while having it all" sounds great in theory and incredibly optimistic, but in practice, is a recipe for madness-making, stress and anxiety. I am not one of those people who would say "you can have it all, just not all at the same time", either, but sometimes I feel like you have to readjust your concept of what "having it all" looks like – to let go of having things look a certain way, and let things get messy. And ask for help. And let go of timelines. And consider where you’re willing to make sacrifices.

        Maybe what you think a rich writing life looks like is not actually what it DOES look like for working mothers who are also successful writers. I suspect that there’s a lot of: "I get up early and write before work" or "I write after the kids go to bed" or "I write on my lunch break and for an hour after work before I pick up the kids from the after-school program, and my husband takes the kids on Saturday mornings so I can do a 3 hour stint at a coffee shop."

        Maybe their writing style changes. I’ve always been someone who writes by the seat of my pants and spends a lot of time waiting on the muse and procrastinating, but recently I bought Scrivener and am trying to instill some structure and discipline in my writing. I am hoping it makes me more consistent if I know that I’m writing about X today and I’ve got two hours to throw down a rough draft vs. just staring at a blank document. TBD.

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      • Thank you so much, Jessica. Those links look wonderful. And yeah, "having a ball having it all" was meant cheekily, not in a declarative, earnest, "look at what fun I’m having" sense… but note the name change: My site is now "Having it Alt." I’ll be changing the URL in the coming weeks. Anyway, you were so generous and kind to pull together these links and offer such thoughtful feedback. Thank you.

        Incidentally I’m reading Daily Rituals about artist’s habits and you might find it interesting too, per your last comment! http://masoncurrey.com/

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