Persistence…and Trust

This is my last week of graduate school. After this weekend, when I present my final thesis and final Mentorship presentation, I am done. I am graduated.

I started grad school at age fifty-three. It felt like the right thing to do. I was in classes with twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings—I could have been their mother. We had some deep belly laughs as we tried to hash out the rules and ethics of writing for children. (Me: “Excuse me, the middle aged white person wants to know what a ‘straight-edge’ is.”)

At any rate, I’ve loved it. Except for the first half of the first semester when I broke out in hives (first time ever) from stress, and dissolved into tears during a phone call with my advisor. But once I realized that this commitment wasn’t going to be the twenty hours a week I thought, more like fifty to sixty hours, I gritted my teeth and rearranged my schedule.

I’ve had many sleepless nights, read too many grim Young Adult novels, and climbed up a steep learning curve with the Internet. (‘Track changes’ didn’t get on my radar until my second semester. God knows what my professors thought as I blithely ignored all their comments and continued turning in papers with antiquated punctuation.) And trying to access the Simmons Library via Internet…well, let’s just say I needed the help of a very patient Reference Librarian. But I persisted against the resistance created by my inexperience.

Persistence is trust at some deep level. It is the trust that the choice we’ve made and the path we’re following is the choice and the path we need to be on at this time in our life. We continue steadfastly because we trust. And this trust, in its turn, reveals to us to the larger consciousness and the intimation that that our individual lives are a vital and valuable part within it.

Persistence, it seems to me, is like a seed. Watered by trust, the sprout emerges, pushing first against the soil then the elements, to unfold its leaves and become its realized potential.

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The Role of Grief

Grief is linked, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to the lung and large intestine organs and, like anger, fear, joy/sadness and worry, it plays a fundamental role in our health.

Our lungs hold and distribute the oxygen that sustains our life, so our inhalation is quite literally the act of taking in life.  When we exhale, we are letting go, in the trust that our next inhalation will come. Without this exhalation––this letting go with trust­­––we can’t take in another breath; we can’t take in more life.

It is the role of grief to facilitate the letting go process. When we grieve, we are letting go of that which no longer serves us. Grieving is the process of sifting through the loss to discover the essence that we wish to carry with us. And then allowing the rest go, so we are able to take in another breath, to continue living.

This week I am grieving the lives lost and maimed at the Boston Marathon bombings (and newly, the MIT officer) and underneath that, I am grieving the awareness that there are people so separated from the basic heart of humanity, that to maim and kill innocent lives is, to them, an acceptable act.

But my grieving has unearthed an essence in the tragedy, to wit: the darkest acts of atrocity are covered by a million lights of kindness. In Boston, people rushed toward the scene of the bombings seconds after they occurred heedless of their own safety, in their impulse to help. Social media spontaneously sprang into action to coordinate emergency information.

Everything is revealed by highlights and shadows.  We are moving forward as a species defined by our immense kindnesses in the wake of our isolated evils.

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For Sale

The focus of my last semester in the MFA program at Simmons College is on preparing us for the ‘real world’ that is, navigating the process of getting published. Which is as it should be, since the Simmons program is highly regarded and has placed many, many graduates in the publishing community as editors, authors, agents, and publicists.

But I find myself, in these classes, getting short tempered and snappy. I would like to have a book contract. (I think.) But if I’m stringently honest, I think what I most want is to be heard.  And that brings up my conflict. I want to be heard, but do I need to be heard? There is a crucial difference here and it is the difference between self-reflection and self-absorption.

Self-reflection is the soft voice of curiosity and wonder––the musings of wanting to understand one’s place in the world. Self-absorption, by contrast, is the loud unceasing voice of need.

When I learn about book trends, and ‘what sells’, I switch from the voice of self-reflection to the voice of self-absorption. I get caught up in the craving—the need––to be heard, and that’s what makes me grumpy.

The world is becoming increasingly noisy, and the ante is being raised. The quiet voice is being replaced by the voice that shocks because that is the one that is heard. Many, if not most of the young adult novels I read for my classes were violent and/or dystopian. As I read, I wondered: are these books reflections of a jaded teen audience, genuinely speaking to their concerns, or are they exploiting the teen marketplace? Because remember, by far and away, authors of YA novels are not teens. They are adults.

I wanted to learn to write to express a creativity in me that tells me it’s time. But after a long day of hearing what sells––of being reminded of the endless American obsession with money––I am weary.

A different reminder (one that is especially poignant in this age of status updates): there’s more to life than selling yourself.

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Intrinsic Value

 Depression is anger turned inward, so they say. And just as outer anger reminds me to go deeper within myself to find the boundary that is being challenged, likewise a feeling of depression is a red flag to alert me to inward turning anger. I think of the process as our bodies nudging us to health. Since all health—emotional, physical and spiritual—is intertwined, excavating what we can helps uncover beliefs that encourage our well being.

The other day after a workshop, I was feeling low. Not just sad, but the low that warns me to pay attention or risk the slide down the slippery slope. So I went inward to explore.  The way I do this is to tell myself words that may be triggers to what precipitated this feeling.  In this case, the word that resonated through me when I unearthed it was “value.” Something about the idea of value jump-started an anger that I turned inward—a self-anger that I refused to see consciously––until my low mood keyed me into it.

Value, says my dictionary is “the importance or preciousness of something.” It also says value is “the usefulness of something held in respect of a particular purpose.”

Within these two definitions, a truth lay ensnared in the thicket of my low mood. Teasing it apart, I realized I had unconsciously held the belief that my value was determined by my usefulness, or to put it another way, my contribution to pleasing others.  Did I make my parents proud? My teachers proud? My friends happy?  If yes, I had value. Don’t get me wrong, this belief has its good points—it keeps me motivated to push myself and to do my best. But because I did not hold the other–and I think perhaps more important definition of value—that of “the importance or preciousness of something” I was only half, not whole. And my inner being was pushing me to be whole.

Once I realized that both definitions of value must necessarily be held in my consciousness for me to be healthy, the thicket was cleared and the self-anger released. (And I felt a lot better.)

So now I know this: We all have intrinsic value. We all hold a value that is separate and inviolate from our usefulness.

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