The sins of the fathers…

I think this is normal: I worry for my children.

I worry for the middle one, sixteen and practical who covers her tenderness in a hard shell and drives herself, flagging, toward perfection. May she learn balance.

I worry for the youngest one, fourteen and angry and artistic and beautiful. May she learn to be gentle with herself.

I worry for the eldest one, almost twenty and struggling “to adult” with her kind heart exposed to the world. May she learn to protect and love herself.

I suppose I worry for myself, too, almost forty-five and wanting to clutch the children to me and pin their wings in the hope they will never, ever fall.

Mediocrity

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. –Carl Jung

I have always believed I should be “the best” at what I do and, further, that I have the capacity or even the right to be so. Perhaps this is due to rearing or some natural predilection–perhaps that’s just a cop-out way of referring to nature versus nurture.

Whatever the case, as I near my 45th year I am coming around to the realization I am not super woman. I am simply another human being trying to do my best in a challenging environment. This has been a painful realization. I was attached to the idea of being superior, dammit!

My most basic spiritual precept is a commitment to truth. Theoretically, I should be rejoicing that a lie I have lived with my whole life is evaporating before me. I am looking inside. I am awakening. The subversive voice within asks: what is the point of awakening if one is awakening to mediocrity? Here my spiritual conviction of the primacy of truth must take over. Awakening to the truth can only be good for me. It just hurts. It’s just frightening. What will I be left with when my protective lies are all burned away?

A final question: As I searched for an image to go with this post, I found a lot of inspiring quotes about avoiding mediocrity. The question is, how does one go about this? How does one take a mediocre life and turn toward excellence?

When mediocrity becomes the accepted norm, excellence dies a painful death. –Rashida Rowe

Marketing for the terrified

Last month I wrote a post about my paralyzing fear of marketing. Since that post, two things have happened. First, my novel Sage Courage was published and second, I began spending up to an hour a day on marketing.

Confronting a dire fear of marketing proved invaluable and liberating. But how did I do it? This meditation (blog) is an attempt to share what I’ve learned in the last few weeks about overcoming unreasonable fear as I suspect I’m not the only person who is faced with it.

A lot of fear is focused on the future. We imagine a negative outcome and then we obsess about it until it feels real. It isn’t real.

When I recognized this, I decided to employ my creativity in a playful way in the present and to avoid thinking about or hoping for a particular outcome. After all, this is something writers excel at. Writing a novel is an extended exercise in being creative without any promise of all that work/play paying off.

Love has also become an important tool for fighting off my fear of marketing. What wouldn’t we do for what we love? And, as a famous quote in the New Testament tells us, “Perfect love casts out fear.” I have chosen to dwell in my love of life, my love of writing, my love of my subject matter. Selling this novel is not a commercial enterprise but rather a labor of love–a gift intended for the world of readers.

Just now I am sitting in a coffee shop with a stack of novels and a sign announcing their availability. It is still a little nerve-wracking, but I’m out here in a spirit of playful love with a gift for the world.

On lists: Resizing the ego


Every morning excepting Shabbat I write a list. The lists are, without exception, ridiculous. Take for instance this morning:

Water spider
Curate library
Blog
Walk dogs
Pay bills/budget
Paperwork
Format novel for publication
Critique story
Journal
Free write
Write on current novel
Job ap
Paint trim
Meditate
Solicit reviews
Work on marketing

As can be seen at a glance, this is not all going to get done today. My tradition is to work all day after writing my list and then castigate myself at the end of the day for not getting the whole thing done.

I am going to propose a theorem: Self-castigation for failing to do the impossible is not a recipe for success.

And a corollary: Assigning oneself impossible goals is a failure of the ego.

I am not a literary Evil Knievel, jumping my motorcycle of concepts over the Grand Canyon. I am not a Hercules of lifestyle, able to clean out the Augean Stables of my life in one day. So why do I write lists which assume I can or should?

Yesterday I was reading my Siddur and came across a blessing for “releasing the bound.” Immediately I wondered what binds me. The question invited the answer. My ego binds me. My assumption that I either can or should accomplish the impossible every day is egoic.

What is the effect of trying to accomplish the impossible every day, the threat of self-castigation hanging over me at every turn? It is a diminishing of my energy. I spend valuable resources on setting impossible goals and then hating on myself when I fail.

What if I spent all that energy on being happily productive, I wonder. With the thought, my spirits lift and I feel renewed purpose.

We have circled back to Buddhism, the spiritual tool for ego-reduction. I’m off to meditate. But first, I believe I will water the spider.

Rage against the machine, O lilies

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon…And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. –Matthew 6:24, 28-29

“Hello, my name is Heather,” I used to say many times a day, “and I’m a nurse with your insurance company. I’m calling to see if you’re doing better following your stay in the hospital.”

My introduction completed, I would eel my way into a conversation about my client’s health and begin to identify problem areas to be addressed. I sat at my desk in my home office and listened, asked targeted questions, and finally provided education and direction.

“That’s something you should call your doctor about immediately,” I would say to one man. “It would be better to take your blood pressure medications after your dialysis treatment,” I explained to another client. For another, I would teach about the importance of gentle, daily exercise and frequent hand washing for chronic lung disease.

The theory underlying this occupation is elegant and, at least on its face, an excellent example of the capitalist concept that financial constraints can drive moral solutions.

First, the problem. Profit margin for health insurance companies is dependent on the health of the insured population. In any population, acute and chronic illnesses will require health care expenditures. However, there is a statistical difference in the amount of money required to pay for a bunch of sick people who are “compliant” with health care directions and a similar bunch of people who don’t understand how or aren’t motivated to care for their health.

The market-driven solution is to provide expert education and support to sick people. Advice and a helping hand cut costs.

The long and short of it is I was a very good nurse to my clients at this, my last job. Also I was a lousy employee. There was a time during the span of my position when the productivity requirements made by my bosses became impossible to meet. Or–perhaps not impossible. It would be more fair for me to say the demands of administration conflicted with my ability to do what I thought was best for my patients.

I experienced a period of despair. I needed this job. It paid well and it allowed me to stay home with my brood of teenagers with their predilection for drama and danger. Following despair came fear and with fear the flight/fight instinct kicked in.

My “solution” was simple. I would continue to provide each of my client-patients with the best I had to offer and ignore productivity expectations for as long as my company would keep paying me. In the recesses of my rebellious mind and in the crevices of my proletarian heart I rejoiced to “stick it to the man.”

In retrospect, I see every lengthy encounter with a client, every time I made six calls to advocate for someone instead of one, every time I raised my middle finger in the direction of “productivity,” I deepened the grubby hole where others could bury my career.

In the proud tradition of Don Quixote and Vladimir Lenin, I chose to joust with the capitalist windmills. My patients loved me. I made a difference in a lot of lives. At least once a day I said something or made a call which facilitated better health for a client. In the meantime I’m sure my supervisors noticed my distinct lack of interest in the finer points of the art of volume.

In March of this year my care management company failed to win a contract renewal with the insurer. By late May the new company had hired most of my coworkers while choosing to decline my services. On the first of July I became officially unemployed.

Over the last few weeks I have discovered that more of my self-image was based on having a job than I thought. I have become depressed. I have concluded my normal self-confidence was just a clever ruse to cover up my basic inability to be a “good worker.”

I cannot argue I was ever a bad nurse to my patients at any of my jobs ever. But I do see a bit of a pattern of defiance against administration when the chips come down.

Currently a few shocks are running through my brain in parallel. I have fully realized there is a stark difference between being a good nurse and being a good employee. Damning evidence has emerged that the Democratic National Committee rigged the primary. And I’m reading Russell Brand’s book “Revolution.” You, dear reader, are smart enough to see where this is going so I’ll stop ranting and end with a question: When did doing the right thing get subsumed under the financial bottom line?

Insanity and blame

It takes a strong brain to go on. I blame myself for being depressed. I blame myself for falling through the rabbit holes in my consciousness and finding myself in moods which don’t much mirror reality. How does one describe the taste of blue?
Some aspects of my consciousness are unavoidable. Some aspects are optional. Sorting my states and impressions into those two piles is the work of a lifetime.
I’ll make a proposition based on the statements in the first paragraph: depression and alterations in perception are unavoidable. Spending my precious energy on blaming myself is optional.

It takes a strong brain to go on. I’ll not weaken myself today with optional negativity.

Self hatred and pursuing dreams


Part A

So occasionally this happens to me: I start reading something and begin to hate myself and the author with equal fervor. The process is identical across authors and genres. I begin reading. I’m struck by the brilliance of the writing. I realize there is no way I could ever touch that level. The hatred flows.

How dare they be so damn good?

How dare I consider myself a writer?

Logic much? Not noticeably.

The current object of enjoyment/hatred is Russell Brand’s “Revolution.” Argh! How could he have so much articulate smartass between the covers of one book?

Irrational self-hatred is a theme in my life much like yellow in “The Great Gatsby.” (One of the first literary bits which awakened self-hatred.)

For years I wrote off the manic intensity of jealousy as an annoying quirk. Recent events have caused me to reconsider. As I mentioned in A Declaration of War, I decided to take an unfortunate event and leverage it to the advantage of my dream of being a full-time writer.

Ten days into the experiment I can confidently report that the opportunity to pursue my dreams has left me standing frozen, terrified, and twitching. I feel a bit sick all the time. Going to bed looks good. Opening bills looks good. Taking the weed whacker to the back forty looks positively delightful.

I’m not going to say that self-hatred is causing my inertia. I’m not going to attribute my inertia to something else and then say that’s causing self-hatred. The chicken and the egg conundrum is one more way to avoid the issue.

Part B

Yesterday–Shabbat–I sat and read Ashrei during Mincha. Those of you who are familiar with the siddur know that reading Psalm 145 (Ashrei) is not exactly an unusual occurrence. Even those of us who pray sporadically know Ashrei really well because it is right there in two out of three of the daily prayers.

Yesterday, though, something struck me about. I decided the psalm comes in two sections. The first section basically goes to great length and employs extensive synonyms and parallelism to say that we should always be talking about how wonderful The Ineffable is and was.

Then there is a bridge. Malchutcha malchut olamim…Your kingdom is a kingdom of all eternities…

Following the bridge, the psalm talks about Divine assistance in the present and future tenses. My favorite: You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing with its desire.

I realized one interpretation of the psalm is that the whole thing is talking about need and desire. The most effective approach to having needs and desires is to concentrate on the miraculous preservation of my existence to date. My job is to focus on that. The Universe’s job is to provide for me “in the proper time.”

Synthesis

I’m going to posit that my ability to pursue my dreams is dependent on an attitude of praise and wonder and let my actions flow from that space. Let’s see where this gets us.

Oh yeah–the picture accompanying this post: It is talking to me right now about how holes in a perfect object may simply reveal more depth. It’s all about perspective.