STONE WALLS


stone wall

“Sometimes our walls exist just to see who has the strength to knock them down.” 
― Darnell Lamont Walker

I’m surrounded by writers.  Everywhere I turn, another friend or acquaintance has set their proverbial pen to paper and launched a blog or started writing for local media. Nowadays it is so easy to get a byline by simply releasing your thoughts through your keyboard and pressing “publish.” Some of it is quite good too. I find myself in awe of the talent and ideas that are making their way into the world. I admire those who diligently find topics and put their mind to pulling together 500 or 1000 meaningful words day after day.

I am not one of those writers. In fact, I have never labeled myself a writer. Despite my never-ending desire to release the words that desperately sought refuge from my brain, I never felt much confidence about my ability to write and I resisted the urge for many years. After spending four years in college as English major with an emphasis on journalism, I wimped out when it came time to get a job. I ended up on the business side of publishing and never dipped my toe back in the creative waters after I left school. In fact, the genesis of this blog was as a business function. I started writing it 5 years ago because I thought it would help my business. My goal was to write about topics that my clients cared about to help develop a voice that people would pay attention to. I wanted to be taken seriously as a thought leader. And, as I have shared before, without much intention, my writing quickly turned personal and I, quite unexpectedly, found an outlet for all of the words locked deep within me that needed freedom. I found salvation through the tapping of the keys. I released so much of what was bottled up and needed to be said. I gave myself a voice that would otherwise be silent. I knew I would never be able to utter the words I wrote as I could craft the message so much more elegantly and eloquently when I escaped to the quiet of my desk or with my laptop in a remote spot wherever I was traveling – setting free whatever was burning inside me.

And then, without warning, it stopped. The well had dried. My ink had run out and there was nothing new to say. No interesting or compelling way to share my joy or mitigate my pain. No opportunity to offer wisdom to others who might be suffering silently and would be moved by my message. After all, what was the point if not to help others? What is my purpose if not to change someone else’s life, helping to move another human being even an inch off the spot where they currently sit? My fear became that of the tree that falls in the forest and no one hears… Without the receipt of my message, to me there is no point. I might as well just sit and talk to myself.

I suppose people might still have been reading but I lost interest in myself and didn’t feel like anything I had to say would shake anything up or create a safe port in the storm. I began to bore myself with my same old story. Nothing new here, folks. Just the same old baggage that I cannot spin one more time. Yet, words still churned around in my mind, aching to get out but without an adequate site for landing. They just spun around and around, attaching themselves to one another, forming familiar sentences and paragraphs as I drove or sat on a plane or looked wistfully out of the window of a train. They seemed so interesting and alluring as they danced around, mating in my mind but, as I began to scribble them onto paper, they looked exactly like the words I had scrawled so many times before.

So, here I sit.

Perplexed.

Frustrated.

Bottled up.

The words need to come out so I will try a fresh approach. I will tell a new story. I will share my words in a new way that might not look as familiar as the ones that came before…at least not to me.


There is a stone wall that sits far in the woods. Over many years, the wall was erected, one rock at a time, mixed with concrete to hold it together. Its materials are varied, pulled from loose rocks that were leftover from other projects. Not carefully chosen but, instead, grabbed aimlessly from a large pile that lay, ready for disposal. The wall is repurposed. The care and effort that went into building this wall is questionable. On the one hand, it is sturdy and solid and, on the other it might be perceived as vulnerable and weak. This wall was designed for security and privacy. Its stones are thick and, despite the lack of care that went into the construction, there are no cracks in the seams and no light shines through. When the wall was fully built, it completely eclipsed the light, keeping out evil and good equally. A design flaw, for sure, as the intention was always to keep out the dark and leave a space for the light. But, in its haphazard design, no such space was created.

This wall is ugly – not one that sparkles when the sunlight reflects off of it. It is unsightly and anyone who might encounter it would find it hard to look at. Those that stumble upon it are confused by it and find its isolation odd. When they try to push against it, certain there must be a weak spot, an opening to gain entrance, they are met with failure. Attempts to apply pressure and find a crevice to begin to dismantle it reveal the strength and impenetrability of this neglectfully composed structure. Ironically, there is no compromising its integrity. The stones will prevail against any effort. Of course, most discover it rather accidentally and are not equipped with the proper tools to destroy it. And, most give up quickly, realizing that it is not worth their effort for this is just a random wall in the woods.

This wall was intended to be retractable and temporary – a shield against the elements, pulled out only when needed but, because of the shabby design and poor materials, it has only one position. It is either up or completely destroyed and no longer in place. And, no wrecking crew has deemed it destined for destruction. So it stands firmly in place, keeping out the light, without its cracks, without its leaks.

Sadly, the craftsman who slapped the wall together forgot to build a door so he is destined to live inside, trapped. In his sloppiness, he forgot to build a door or window that would allow him to escape and he is imprisoned, calling out loudly for help but no one can hear him for, despite his poor work and mismatched materials, he is a brilliant builder and he could not help but create a solid, masterful structure. He worries that he will forever be held captive by his own calloused hands. That is, unless, someone realizes, after some time, that he has gone missing and they seek out to find him. Unless someone can sense the absence of his presence and realize that he is trapped inside the wall he so carelessly built around him.

This wall was intended to be retractable and temporary – a shield against the elements, pulled out only when needed but, because of the shabby design and poor materials, it has only one position. It is either up or completely destroyed and no longer in place.

Alas, our craftsman has lived a quiet life. He has kept to himself mostly so, while others would smile and wave and perhaps chat about the fine weather when they would see him in the village, he lived mostly invisibly and it would be quite some time before anyone actually noticed that they had not seen him. It would be a long stretch before anyone might wander past his lane to see if he had fallen ill or was simply busily working on his next masterpiece. Because he was inconspicuous to most, he may be destined to spend his eternity, encompassed by that stone wall, never seeing the fine weather or never glimpsing a friendly face again.

But, perhaps, one guileful adventurer might be so intrigued by the wall that he might build a ladder and climb to the top, high in the clouds and begin the painstaking effort of loosening the bricks, using the powerful tools required to loosen the stones and soften the concrete, allowing the wall to begin to tumble, freeing our quiet craftsman. Maybe one person will have the vision and the might to take on the project because they see that the stones, while shoddily glued together, all have beauty and can be repurposed in the most magnificent ways. It will be worth the effort to tear the sad wall apart and reclaim the materials and unleash the unfortunate artisan, hoping to teach him to be more careful in the future.

Perhaps.

And maybe, once freed, with the hindsight that only time and reflection affords us, the builder will learn the true meaning of his seemingly unintentional work.

SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD


sunshine-blog-award

I started writing my blog 3.5 years ago and have limped along to reach 97 posts.  Before this summer is over, I will have accomplished 100 blog posts.  For those bloggers who are diligent enough to write every day or even every week, this may not seem like such an auspicious accomplishment in 42 months.  On average, I wrote a little more than 2 posts a month.  However, for me, someone who pours her heart and soul into the blog and someone who never believed in herself as a writer, it feels as satisfying as climbing a really tall mountain (but probably not as extraordinary as reaching the Summit on Everest!).  Part of the joy of the experience for me has been meeting many other bloggers and becoming an active member of the blogging community.  I have so much respect and appreciation for anyone who makes the effort to string together thoughts in coherent and, often, moving ways.  I admire anyone who will share parts of themselves that might otherwise be too scary or feel off-limits for public consumption.  Pushing beyond our limits and digging into some dark crevices are the hallmarks of powerful writers and I am fortunate to have encountered many over the years.

One of my favorite bloggers is a dear friend in my town who was inspired to start writing this year after the horrific events that marked the end of 2012.  Between the ravages of Hurricane Sandy and the horror of the Sandy Hook shootings, my friend Claire decided she needed to be intentional about putting kindness back into our lives and committed herself to writing every day for 365 days to promote kindness and, hopefully, start a movement.  When she mentioned this to me and asked for some advice, I wholeheartedly encouraged her because I simply loved the premise.  How wonderful it would be to find 365 ways to spread kindness and impact our community.  What none of us ever expected was the inevitable twists and turns that life takes in the course of a year and how it would forever change her mission and her focus yet make her blog one of the most powerful vehicles for not only kindness but healing, inspiration and joy.

This week, dear sweet Claire’s blog A Project for Kindness was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award.  Ever kind, Claire, in turn, nominated me for the same recognition in order to pay it forward.  Now it is my turn to do the same.  It is time for me to acknowledge all of those bloggers who inspire me and motivate me to keep telling my story.

Here are the rules for the award:

  • Include the award logo in a post or on the blog
  • Include a link to the person who nominated you (thanks again to A Project for Kindness for the nomination).
  • Write 10 random things about yourself
  • Nominate ten other bloggers who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”, and let them know you nominated them.

So here are the 10 random things about myself:

  1. I was a spelling bee champion in elementary school and I am a complete grammar nut (as many close friends and family members can attest to).
  2. I have a terrible fear of heights and have never been on a roller coaster or most thrill rides at theme parks.
  3. I have an allergy to shellfish which I developed right before I went to college.  I learned about my allergy after feasting at Red Lobster with my parents during Orientation Weekend for college in Binghamton, NY.  That was no fun.
  4. I have never broken any bones in my body.  I did, however, come close last year when I suffered a hairline fracture in my ankle after sparring with a friend in karate (I was secretly excited to finally have been athletic enough to get injured!).
  5. I have two children and, in between them, I suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy which came dangerously close to killing me.  As a result, I had to use in vitro fertilization to conceive my second son.
  6. I am obsessed with reality television – I am a Real Housewives addict and I am not proud.
  7. I was never in love with anyone before my husband.
  8. My husband and I got engaged within 6 months after we met.
  9. I did not try sushi until I was 40 and now I am obsessed with it.
  10. I took 3 years of Latin in high school and can only remember one thing – Poetae sunt agriculae

10 Bloggers who I think,  “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”

  1. Tom Aplomb
  2. Rebel Thriver
  3. Aspire.Motivate.Succeed!
  4. An Inch of Gray
  5. The Better Man Project
  6. Better Life Coaching Blog
  7. Rarasaur
  8. Maggie Mae I Just Say This
  9. Mom in the Muddle
  10. Brene Brown

Please check out these blogs and, especially, Claire’s blog!  And, please keep reading and sharing my blog.  Big #100 is coming for me and I promise to make it a great one!

ON WRITING


typewriter“A wonderful writer has given the best of herself or himself in the work. I think many of them are frustrated by the thinness and inadequacy of ordinary spoken language, of ordinary contact even with the people they know best and love best. They turn to writing for this reason. I think many of them are magnanimous in a degree their lives cannot otherwise express.” – Marilynne Robinson

My friend, and fellow writer, Tom, posted the above quote on his Facebook page yesterday morning.  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  I was in the midst of my typical morning ritual of trying to catch up on Facebook, Twitter and other reading on my iPad.  I literally put everything down and re-read that quote at least five or six times.  I soaked in the words and thought and thought.  And then they registered.

I have often wondered why writing has been such an outlet for me in my happiest and my most difficult moments.  And, while I am a fairly good communicator, I have also struggled to understand why it is so much easier for me to sit down with a pen and paper or at the keyboard of my computer and express the thoughts, ideas or feelings that otherwise get stuck at the end of my tongue.  I love words.  I love the way sentences string together to paint a picture so powerful that rarely an orator can relay the message as effectively.  Of course, there are some amazing storytellers out there but, typically, someone has taken the time to sit down and put those words to paper before they can be articulated out loud.

For most of my life, I shied away from the moniker of writer because I never believed in my ability.  Despite my journalism degree, I did not view my writing to be an art form but rather a utilitarian skill.  I could craft a great article, filled with research, quotes and detailed facts but the imagery and passion required for creative writing often eluded me – mostly because I did not believe in myself.  As I do, I looked at others, admired their craft and punished myself because I didn’t think I measured up.  I never gave myself the permission to just let go and free the words from my mind to see what became of them.  I burdened myself with critical judgments and never permitted a full immersion into the process.  Applying my results-oriented approach that I use in work, I focused more on the end product rather than simply allowing the creativity to take shape.  My creative writing was limited strictly to personal journals which I have kept in abundance over the years because I have always needed to sort out the chaos in my mind and chronicle it in some purposeful way.  Religiously, I would read and reread my innermost thoughts but never shared them with anyone.  Despite the ongoing yearning to empower the voice inside me that drew pictures with words, I struggled with a massive road block between my brain and my hands – and it was all self-inflicted.

It was only a few years ago, when I decided to start writing this blog, that I began to exercise new muscles.  The blog started out of necessity to help me market my professional services. I wanted to present a point of view on business-related topics to help potential clients understand my subject-matter expertise.  It didn’t take too long – in fact, just about 3 or 4 posts in the first month – before my personal story starting leaking through the seams.  The ritual and process of writing this blog created a channel for me to navigate unchartered waters.  It happened rather unconsciously.  I discreetly ignored the fact that I was personalizing my blog posts instead of taking the more business-appropriate, objective position, focusing on facts and data.  Overnight, the flip switched and I had embraced an approach to sharing my perspectives through the art of storytelling.  I realized later – much, much later – that storytelling was my calling card.  People had been referring to me as such for years but I never understood their meaning.  I tuned that out because my brain had no way of processing that notion as it was in direct contradiction to my belief that I had no talent. Suddenly liberated by the unlimited vocabulary of my mind, I had a significantly larger canvas and a broader spectrum of colors with which to paint my pictures.  Like the author of the quote suggests, the spoken word proved inadequate for me to effectively communicate my messages and tell my stories.  By writing, I was freed from the forced constructs that are applied with verbal communication.  I was writing a blog, after all.  I could write anything in any way.  Slowly and steadily, my muscles loosened and I found myself digging through tunnels that had not before been excavated.  With my head lamp firmly affixed and my pick axe in tow, I started plummeting into the depths of myself and began pulling up images and truths that I simply did not know were sitting patiently, waiting to be surfaced.

It’s been 3 years and tens of thousands of words have sought refuge from my mind. And with all that behind me, I understand the author’s meaning deep in my bones.  I can share stories and truths about myself when packaged with words that soften the harsh pain and pretty up the ugliness.  I can articulate profound struggle with a tenderness and generosity, all the while connecting the reader to my story when they have never once step foot in my shoes.  Never would I be able to find the words to speak my story in as articulate or meaningful way.  I feel passionate and alive when I write.  I see words dancing in my mind and coming together in perfect prose.  The energy shifts from my mind to my fingers in perfect harmony and I feel as if I have been set free.  I finally understand why, everywhere I go, in everything I do, I am looking for the story.  I am taking in the experience and imagining how to describe the scene, the smell, the feel of everything going on around me.

For a very long time, I thought I was a little crazy.  I worried that I was defective because I needed quiet and needed to soak in what was going on around me.  In large groups of people I found myself needing a respite in order to process the experience.  I needed to find breathing room and wondered why others did not have the same experience.  I thought, perhaps, I struggled with shyness or was an introvert.  I thought I might just simply be weird.  It was beginning to feel like I was living in a different dimension than everyone around me.  I could not make the noise stop in my mind but I enjoyed the imagery that continually arose from my thoughts.  My penchant for quiet contemplation and melancholy seemed unusual but I secretly valued this about myself.  Only through the outlet of my writing did I finally come to understand that I am, in fact, blessed.  I have been gifted with an ability to communicate in my own unique way.  I have been blessed with the extraordinary power to share my stories and, hopefully, I can bless others by creating an emotional connection along the way.

3 years and tens of thousands of words later, I now recognize that I am not crazy and I understand my truth.  Regardless of whatever else I do, one thing is true.  One thing surely defines me.

I am a writer.

margaret atwood quote

MISSING


“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown

I am currently working on a very meaningful project – coaching someone to help them uncover their story.  I love this for so many reasons but mainly because I am helping them find their story to authentically and passionately share with others the importance of the work that they are doing.  It is an exciting journey for them because they are being pushed to explore aspects of themselves in ways they may not have before and it is interesting for me because I am challenging myself to be present on their ride and partake in the same activities.  Part of my role is to provide journal prompts each day to encourage them to write.  The prompts are often benign and are intended to simply get them to explore some thoughts and put them down on paper.  I’m not particularly interested in what they write.  I simply want them to write.  But, of course, the mere exploration of thought creates pathways to information and the act of scribing creates further connections and suddenly stories are unfolding right in front of you.

Yesterday, I offered up a prompt to write about someone that you miss, dead or alive.  I put no parameters around this topic because I wanted them to explore on their own who they missed and why and, perhaps, what it meant to miss someone.  Do you miss someone because they are no longer part of your life?  Do you miss someone because they have passed on?  Do you miss someone at that very moment even if you are going to see them the very next day?  The exercise was intended to allow them to journey along all those lines.  As I am trying to parallel the exercises and simultaneously write on the very same topics, I commissioned myself to tackle the same subject…and fell short.  With each journal prompt, I also ask that we write about something that we are grateful for and/or something we are disappointed about from our day and, last night, I got really hung up on the first part.  I focused on my lack of gratitude, which was, conversely, a source of disappointment for myself.

Ironically enough, I am not someone who enjoys journaling because, for me, it sometimes seems forced and I am often harshly critical of what I write.  Because I typically write with the intention of having others read it, I am extremely focused on my choice of words, the deeper messages and having compelling content.  And, of course, that is exactly what journaling is not and exactly why I should spend more time on that activity.  Journaling is most powerful as a tool to allow for a free stream of thought to enable you to find those pathways to your inner voices.  I recognize that it’s nuts that I resist it and, as a result, I am forcing myself to take advantage of this opportunity to embrace the art of journaling if only to have some connection and authenticity with this project.  What comes from it will only be the icing on the cake.

Last night when I set out to write about someone I miss, I struggled.  I could not really come up with anyone that I missed so much that I wanted to write about it.  There are a lot of people that have been a part of my life that I do not have any connection with anymore because of life circumstances.  I do miss some of them and, sometimes I feel badly about the role I played in our disconnection.  I miss what they used to mean to me and I feel sad about the fact that, in many cases, I allowed the person to slip out of my life.  There are also certainly people who are currently a part of my life who I do not see very often and I surely miss them.  In truth, some of the people that I am closest to live at a great distance from me so I am constantly missing them but that has become a regular, ordinary characteristic of my life.  I don’t like to write about it because it frustrates me and also makes me very sad.  So, ultimately, I avoided the topic entirely and I ended up spending my time writing about my own disappointment in myself for not feeling more grateful and for letting myself continually get caught up in malaise rather than focusing on the positive aspects of my life.  The subconscious thoughts about how missing people makes me feel bad surely inspired a whole lot of negativity towards myself and was a perfect platform to display my deep levels of disappointment in myself.

This morning, as often happens when I am returning from dropping my kids off at school, I took a few minutes for some self-reflection and started thinking about the exercise again (yes, this is how this stuff works.  A simple little prompt can permeate your thinking and just sit with you for days.  It’s pretty awesome).  With a somewhat clear head, the loud and resounding noise was that the person I missed most right now was me.

I’ve gone away.  I have allowed myself to get caught up with the messiness in my life.  I focus on all the things wrong and nothing that is right.  I have become blind to the beauty around me like the rich fall colors and the fragrant aromas of the season that so often make me feel whole and connected.  I feel disappointment in myself in regards to many areas of my life.  I am harshly judging myself and critical of my thinking and endeavors. I am, as the brilliant Brene Brown would say, caught up in a shame spiral.   She says that “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  That is a potent message and, when I reflect on my life right now, it truly represents how I feel and why I miss myself.  I miss the person who rises above and feels tremendous gratitude for all the richness and texture that makes up my life.  I miss the strength that I typically exhibit to work through the clutter and chaos and the pride I feel for having muddled through and come out the other end feeling confident and powerful.  I miss waking up every day looking forward to the challenges before me and going to bed at night feeling tired but inspired and excited about what comes next.

I miss me.

The good news, I suppose, is that I can see myself in the distance and know that I am not far away.  And, chances are, it will likely not be too long before I return.  However, in the spirit of honoring this exercise, I will recognize that the person I miss is me and I will pine for myself and encourage myself to find my way back.  I will, like any good friend, extend a hand to help myself back up the hill, shout out directions as I traverse the rocks and catch myself if I slip.  And, until my return, I will keep on missing me and will remember another passage from Brene:

“Shame resilience [is] the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it.”

She says, “shame derives its power from being unspeakable…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”  So, I guess this little exercise, this benign journal prompt is exactly what I need to help myself as only I can.