All photos in today’s post were shot by Kate.
Process and Promise: A Writer’s Journey into the Unknown
As you who are Jeane’s devoted readers know, my life has changed dramatically—unimaginably—in the past few months. You may also know that the changes began in January, when I got sick on the heels of a wonderful visit with Jeane in Truchas. It feels like years have passed since then; however, in paradoxically unsettling and inspiring ways, this life feels very new, making me wonder how more than fifty years of living according to old patterns can give way to a landscape that can sometimes seem so unfamiliar.
I am navigating my way through a world in which the old ways of being are—albeit by my own choice—no longer the rules I live by. Naturally, there are times when I catch myself responding to situations as if I were still living in my old framework, forgetting that I have left that behind, or realizing in certain circumstances that I may not even know what the new rules are. I must learn to set new boundaries with people and affiliations, create structure where there would otherwise be none, and find the courage to explore a new internal landscape that is still home to old wounds and persistent demons. Often this terrain is confusing, and I become lost, no longer willing to fall back on the false comfort of reaching after the known. And without that I must be willing to trust myself in new and untested ways. Confusion and disorientation are uncomfortable, but they can also compel us toward a new understanding about letting go. Living with them has helped me understand what it means to listen to my inner voice and a higher calling that requires living, at times, without answers, “living the questions,” learning to trust the creative spirit and to be guided by a Self who has finally been given permission to grow and space to breathe. A Self who may not always know what to do with that newfound space or freedom. Of course, at those times when the way forward is not clear, Jeane faithfully reminds me to trust in and listen to that inner voice, to just “be.”
It is important to me that readers understand that when my conversations with Jeane were taking place I did not anticipate that they would be shared. The exchanges express deeply personal, private, and uncensored thoughts and feelings through a difficult period of transition and gradual awakening. The truth is, it has not always been easy knowing others have a window into this period in which I was awash in fears, insecurities, and confusion; however, knowing that they may take strength and learn from my experience and growth, gives me inspiration. So here, let me share some reflections with you directly.
This leg of my journey began when I lost my speaking voice for nearly five months, due to a sudden viral infection that damaged the nerve supporting one of my vocal cords. At the time there was uncertainty as to whether or not the nerve or my voice would recover. Normally robust in health (which had allowed me to believe that my strength was a limitless resource), I had run myself and my immune system down so far that this time I wasn’t going to get back up unless I changed something, examined my priorities, and changed my life. It took quite a long period of anguish—with frequent reminders and patient but forthright urgings from Jeane and other close supporters—before I awakened to what I needed to do, and the painful reality fully sank in. I had to make a choice I had never imagined myself making. This process, which you have seen unfolding in Jeane’s “Conversations” posts, was agonizing, as it led to my decision to leave the career to which I had dedicated my life for over two decades. And the choice I was facing shook me to my core.
This choice that emerged was to live, and live creatively, or to live with some sense of security, in the familiar world where I knew what was expected of me, where I had a clearly defined and recognized role. The previous trade-off was that the life I thought I was supposed to be living came at the expense of my spirit, which, as I finally—ever so slowly and reluctantly—came to understand, was dying. The silencing of my voice stopped me physically, forcing me to look deeply inward. My teaching life had been about serving others and meeting their every need, no matter what the cost. Thus, I maintained an identity into which I had invested all of my life energy, dangerously depleting it because the needs were always greater than the support I could provide. I ignored the warning signs at every step and was able to do so because people’s demands and my sense of obligation and hard-won purpose were always there to drown out my inner voice. This probably sounds very familiar to some of you.
I could not imagine walking away from that life despite the way I was feeling every day and the seriousness of the illness that had taken away my voice and my ability to teach effectively. Though I didn’t see this at first, a part of me that I had buried, the quiet but persistent part that could and did imagine and dream of walking away and writing, was still alive. Somehow, what was left of my spirit had protected that creative dream, even though I had neglected them both for so long. Like many others who have made a similar choice, I had to let go of my professional identity, my income, and the old life’s rulebook in order to liberate that dream and free the spirit to which it belonged.
That felt like a huge risk, and it was. I was journeying to a place some of you are already familiar with, where there are no landmarks, where there was (and still is) only my own inner voice and the voices of those who have supported and encouraged me directing me to take this leap and create a new path. When Jeane writes so eloquently about a stripping away or a “shattering” that requires facing and accepting our vulnerability, enabling us to rebuild the self, understand our truth and live it, I believe this is the kind of experience she is talking about. Somehow, in tiny tentative steps, feeling completely defenseless, one learns how to re-imagine oneself.
Miraculously, my speaking voice is getting stronger again, which is a clear affirmation that this path is the right place to be. But the healing process can be tricky. When stress or fatigue return, the vocal weakness comes right back to remind me that self-care means protecting the source of the inner voice so that I can write. In a way, I am fortunate that my voice retreats every time I forget to listen. Learning that kind of self-care takes time and a new kind of attention. For some of us it doesn’t come naturally; other strident voices still have the power to interfere.
A writing life, as fellow artists like Jeane will acknowledge, is extremely difficult, full of doubts and uncertainties, requiring constant nurture, relentless listening through all kinds of noise, faith in one’s unique vision, and sometimes tortuous self-examination. It also requires a willingness to engage with the deep shadow-filled universe without a roadmap. But these efforts and commitments, in the end, are labors of love that sustain us as we walk through light and shadow, unlike labors of blind obligation, which too often exhaust and diminish us.
This work, intertwined with the work of healing, is now my reason to live. I am still learning how to fulfill this promise to myself, unaccustomed as I am to thinking in these terms, not always knowing how to act upon this directive. It is a great challenge for me, given my own history of working solely to meet the demands of others, to fully understand the idea that the process is at once the path and the destination. Yet I believe this to be true and live to honor that process by taking joy in it, despite inevitable frustrations and setbacks.
When the creative spirit, in its marvelous alchemy, finds beauty and perfection in combining elements of imagination, insight, and experience, the result is all the more precious because of its dual nature as a unique gift to the world and the highest gift an artist can give to herself. That is the reward for leaping into the unknown to live an artful life.
[catlist id=17 orderby=date order=desc numberposts=-1 excludeposts=8580]