What Pain Teaches Us

While cleaning up my yard, I twisted my ankle on my half finished garden pathway. I paused, my arms still full, ankle still smarting, wondering if I could still walk on it. For the moment, it was okay and I finished my chore. I’d been meaning to get to that pathway for awhile now.

I had a lot planned that day. I had errands to run, the yard to finish, things around the house to take care of and to finish a big project planned for that evening- but my ankle swelled and canceled my plans.

I did what one is supposed to do in these situations. I whined about it. No, not really. I elevated my foot and iced on my ankle.

*The philosophy in yoga – listen to your body.

*An idea from the military – push yourself to stretch your limits.

*Some believe – train your mind to not feel the pain.

*Others feel – the Universe is sending you a message

So, I’m sitting in my bed, my foot up on a pillow, notebook in hand, wondering which I advice I should follow.

Then I consider my own take on pain: The learning curve. Pain is meant to teach us something.

Physical and emotional pain, without a learning curve, is a waste. People continue to commit the same errors over in their lives and continue to be hurt in the same ways because they have not learned what they needed to the first time.

Healing, real healing, must come with a lesson for us to not re-injure in the exact same way. I spent much of my young life experiencing those lessons over and over without the understanding of what I was to learn. Once I began to learn from my pain – I didn’t allow the injury to happen again.

Emotional pain can last longer and hurt more than physical pain. Emotional pain can take up residence in our bodies and even cause physical pain. We must work out emotional pain in some way – therapy, talking to friend, or just writing it down to free up that pressure.

Physical pain can affect us emotionally. Some experts believe that to be free of physical pain, we must deal with what is really bothering us.

Some years ago I injured my back in kickboxing. I engaged in physical therapy which didn’t completely alleviate the issues. I still caught myself wincing in bed, carefully moving throughout my day, unable to wear my favorite shoes and sometimes unable to bend to even put my socks on. I thought I might end up like so many whose movement is limited due to their physical pain. I mourned my previous active, kickboxing, yoga, hiking self.

I sat myself down and really asked myself – what is going on, Miss Yogi-pants? Yogies heal. Your mind over matter works. Your stretch beyond your limits has never caused this much pain – so what is happening?

In meditation, I realized that I so feared the pain, my body would tense up with any little movement which MIGHT cause the pain. It wasn’t that I couldn’t bend over – I was afraid of that pain and my body would tense up to save me from the hurt and then I wouldn’t be able to bend over.

Little by little I worked to release that tension, release that fear of the pain. In almost no time at all – the pain was gone. I still took some things slow. And I have to admit, my body (or mind?) decided my back did not like the repetitive jerking and twisting of gym kickboxing, so I limit that – but I’ve been able to do everything else.

Emotional pain works the same way – don’t you think? We are so afraid of the pain that we actually work backward and hold on to the pain by holding on to the fear.

We’re afraid of the unknown, so we make the same mistakes over and over. We fear being hurt, so we don’t try to move beyond it – we stay stuck because that’s safer than whatever is beyond this moment or this position.

What did my ankle teach me? I’m not sure. Not to procrastinate and finish the walkway in the garden? To take it easy before a big project? Or to push through to finish that big project – which is what I ended up doing. I wrapped my ankle, neglected my chores, and focused on the big project that I’d procrastinated on.

Maybe my ankle pain and momentary limitation was a wake up call to stop procrastinating PERIOD!

Hell in a Starbucks Cup

It’s been a year since I’ve had caffeine – and it’s been HELL!

Specifically, my signature black tea, and more specifically, sometimes a half a gallon a day!

I was sitting back today, calm as a koala on eucalyptus, thinking I should be doing something – like writing. And it’s been a year since I’ve had real flow.

That flow where you sit back and the ideas come. That flow wherein you read the news and see how each story can become a hundred short stories, a disaster novel, and a rom-com.

I consider how I used to sit at the dining room table, hot cup of black tea mere millimeters from my fingertips, and type like a hamster on a wheel. Go. Go. Go!

It’s the lack of caffeine – of course- which has caused my caustic dry spell. I glance toward the kitchen, knowing, somewhere in there, lies a discarded tea bag at the bottom of an unused drawer.

Screw the doctors! To hell with anxiety! I shall abandon caution and dive over the cliffs of caffeine haven.

I hesitate, like I do now while strung out on herbal bounty, and consider, weigh the pros and cons, and question my decision. Damn chamomile.

A knock on the door steals my attention. (Caffeine improves focus – pro). I pop off the couch and spring toward the door. (No late afternoon caffeine drag – con). I throw open the door. There, on my patio, a tower of chocolates.

SALVATION!

Passion

Today, listening to the soft roar of the waves while walking on the beach, I thought about life’s passions – that thing or those things a person dedicates themselves to until the day they die.

I heard a podcast about an 84 year old man who went on his 121st sunken ship treasure hunt. I remember the stories of Einstein on his death bed still working on his next theory. How wonderful to be that passionate about something that you don’t want to stop ever!

I want to live with that passion. I want to always look forward and be working on my next passion project. Some people wait for retirement to travel or write or follow their life’s desire. But I want to live every day bathing in that fervor.

While work and other projects sometimes keeps me from writing, I can’t completely blame those things. As a teenager, I wrote endlessly, not concerned with sales or promotion. These things, I’ve come to understand, are what temper my passion for writing. The idea of the work that comes after the publication. The work a writer must do these days.

There must be a happy medium. My goal is to live more in my passion. Just write.

So now I write….

This morning began as perfect set up for a good writing day. I walked the dogs in the cool air, rain dripped daintily from the sky, neighbors waved from their patios. I brewed a beach bellini tea and plucked a fig fresh from the tree. What could go wrong?

Life happened.

Paperwork of the financial type, grading essays, responding to emails.

Nails on a chalkboard.

The dream like setting beckons, the adoring characters wait. The world I was so lovingly creating has come to a standstill.

I am filled with liverwurst sandwiches.

This is why writers have phoneless, internet limited, no contact writing retreats – which are harder and harder to find.

Can you imagine even being disconnected these days? I used to say – “nothing is going to happen that you can’t hear about an hour later” – to my students to encourage them to put down their phones. But I, too, feel that same tug of addiction these days. The world moves fast. Don’t get back to someone and you lose an opportunity.

Our insta-world expects an insta-response or you’re history.

I just want to write. I want to sit down and not have to worry about anything else except the setting, timeline, character arc, beauty of language, reasoning of scene.

I’ll take the transitional cuppa, the stroll in the garden, anything to get back into my writing state…..

until the next interruption.

Dreams of Dying in a Mad World

Freud had his issues, definitely, but he did bring us dream interpretation. He wass the first to propose that dreams mean something other than our mind taking flight during the night. Some of his suppositions about meaning were probably incorrect.

There are modern interpretations, spiritual interpretations, and personal ideas of what each dream might mean to the dreamer.

When I was young, I kept a dream diary. I began to wake up multiple times a night – after every dream – and scrawl furiously images and events. Sometimes in the sleepy morning light, I was unable to make out what I’d written. Over time, however, I did see a pattern in the dreams. A message, if you will. My mind was working on my day time issues. And I wrote more.

There are a number of dream dictionaries, dream meaning sites, and even people who do dream interpretation – I totally want that job! Sometimes it’s easier for others to see the meaning in our dreams than we do, depending on how well they know us.

Dreaming of death means, according to these sites, a big change or a new start. I don’t know if I believe that.

Dreaming of loved ones who have passed has a number of different meanings depending on who you talk to or what you read. Some will tell you that you are experiencing visitations. The dead are dropping in to say hello because it’s easier than trying to drop in during the day when you’re reasonable/logical mind is ruling the roost.

I don’t mind when the dead drop in on my dreams. I saw my mother recently. She looked better, and happier, than she had in years.

There’s a school of thought that believes that the best writing comes from the same places these dreams come from, released from the logical mind.

Some of my best writing has come in the middle of the night, somewhere between the dreaming world and the waking world, somewhere between the logical mind and the mystical possibilities beyond our waking consciousness.

I need to do more of that… more sleeping or not sleeping, more dreaming, more writing in those twilight states. I think my writing is more free, more interesting, maybe getting back to what writing is all about. Not the waking world of publishing and promotion, but the inner world of expression and possibilities.

*the title is inspired by the song by Tears for Fears – Mad World – featured in a dreamlike movie, Donnie Darko.

Where do you write?

I stumbled upon an article about writing space that I wanted to share.

I used to write, quite successfully, at my dining room table. I love the early morning light that comes through the window, not too bright until right after lunch – sometimes, I’m still writing and I have to draw the blinds.

From my dining room table, I can also view of what happens in front of my house. It’s minimal distraction. But just distracting enough for when I need to look up from any painfully blank pages. A neighbor walking a dog. A child riding a bike. My neighbor searching through the recycling bin.

I have a cafe style table. Far too big for my little space. A little taller than average. But it works when I get tired of sitting, I can stand.

The chair got hard to sit on. Back pain. Hip pain. The minimal cushion became even more minimal after so many days and hours and years sitting there.

I’ve thought about getting a little table. A table built for two – me and my computer – and set it right near the window – even closer than I am now. But would it be big enough for my tea? my snack? my stack of junk mail?

I changed my writing space to a proper desk. Big. Wooden. Dark. A drawer filled with paper, pens, stapler, and the like – whatever I might need. A nearby printer. A proper chair.

Yet, reading this article, I realized I’m nowhere near as productive as I used to be.

Starting tomorrow – it’s back to my table!

Where do you write?

My mind is a dry, dry desert

The waters cease to flow and my mind becomes a dry desert, void of any green and brown or dreams. Words fail me. Dedication wanes. I posture in contention with an empty screen, my silence doing little to reach resolution.

The tea pot whistles, the phone pings, a dog barks in the distance and I remove myself to interject where wanted or needed. Anywhere but that blank screen and my vacuous mind which refuses to fill it.

The dry times are the hardest. I remind myself it’s temporary; I list the ways, committed to memory, of how to overcome, outdo, move forward. But I am uncooperative.

I need new stimuli, a piece of starlight dropped at my feet, the feather floating before my eyes, but it’s all just lies.

I blame the hostility of empty souls, the long blankness of lock down, the right light, the wrong pen, but it’s meaningless.

Streams create rivers which become lakes and flow into oceans. Water wedges into openings, fills spaces, creates movement.

Stay open. Always stay open.

Fear

For many years, I have walked confidently on the stones in the stream, believing the fall not that deep, won’t hurt that much.

The truth is that the fall might not be very deep, might not hurt at all – it’s the fear of the fall that worms it’s way into the squirmy regions of my brain. That’s where all fear starts – somewhere deep inside the brain which is supposed to warn us of danger. We begin to feel it all though our bodies.

I come from a legacy of anxiety.

I, however, have never subscribed to the fear. I’ve never allowed it to control me or my life. In fact, I pushed back by crashing through obstacles of all sorts, by caving, and diving with sharks, traveling to far away places, and teetering on the edge of canyons for selfies. Yes, I’m one of those!

This past year, however, those rocks seem far more precarious than I ever noticed. The water rushes past so quickly, loosening the stones, unsteadying the path.

When I take one step at a time, I’m okay. If I look at the other side, if I concern myself with two or three stones ahead, I begin to panic.

Walk steady. Walk slowly. Head high. Believe it will all be okay. The other side is nearer than it seems.

Link to publications

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.