“Ten Tiny Changes”: The Artist’s Way

 

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I’m beginning to realize that my current sensitivity around the state of the world and the state of my own emotional well-being is not just a day or two of the blues. It is a tender stage of life I must make my way through.

At fifty-six, I find myself restless, wondering if I’ve done enough and curious about what more there might be to do and what it might look like. New career? Different town? Stay the course? Get a facelift?

Some folks say I think too much, worry more than I should. Guilty as charged. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to be what I am: highly sensitive and hyper aware. And I’m too old for that now. Instead I choose to embrace these qualities and work with them as best I can. There are some upsides: curiosity, empathy, creativity, trustworthiness, and a willingness to hang out in the trenches with people who are hurting. Some of the challenges include: taking on problems that aren’t mine to solve; an inability to filter out what I don’t need to absorb; overreacting to perceived injustices; and accepting what’s mine to do and laying down the rest.

In order to make my way in the world without becoming completely overwhelmed, I need to get quiet and listen deeply—to myself and my Creator. One way I’m doing that right now is by working my way through The Artist’s Way Workbook. The current assignment is to list “Ten Tiny Changes” I’d like to make and then crafting goals from those. This an effective way to streamline what’s important to me. For example, from “I want to publish a book,” I get, “I will write every day.” From “I would like to teach part time,” I move to, “I will apply for the adjunct job at the university.” From “I would like to start my spiritual direction practice,” I come up with, “I will reach out to friends in the spiritual community for advice.” Wanting to lose weight morphs into, “I will walk five times a week.”

It may seem straightforward, like a “no brainer” to those who are more single minded and pragmatic, that you would list your goals and then set about tackling them. But for someone like me, who can become convinced fairly easily that I should be doing something else–or worse, that I should “be” someone else–the act of breaking my goals down into “tiny changes” is helpful. Let’s see how it goes…

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. How do you focus and make progress on your goals and dreams?

MayBelle on Marriage {Don’t Worry, This Won’t Take Long}

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Back in 2002, at age forty-one, MayBelle, who theretofore had been considered an “old maid,” transitioned to someone who “married late.” She resents both those descriptors, as you might imagine MayBelle would, because there were no guarantees—or requirements—she would ever marry. MayBelle is delighted that cultural norms have shifted at least somewhat although not enough to suit her–especially in the Deep South where she lives–toward realizing marriage is not the only route to happiness.

One element of such partnering is a numbers game, along with a dash or two of serendipity and a handful of what might only be described as “secret ingredients.” MayBelle’s parents did not promise her a prince, riding a horse or otherwise. They were too busy telling her she had to go to graduate school so she would be positioned to support herself. MayBelle is driven to distraction by people who fill little girls’ heads with seemingly surefire notions of weddings and white-picket-fence happily ever afters (is this really a thing?) as if it’s a done deal. Some folks get it, and some don’t. (MayBelle knows she’s talked about this before, but that’s how much it bugs her. She appreciates your indulgence.)

Several of MayBelle’s mentors have been women who never married. Her Aunt Vannie, for example, who lit out from Water Valley, Mississippi, for Greenwich Village and made a life for herself by herself. What a fabulous broad she was. MayBelle still wears a shawl (black and white, from England) and a big ol’ topaz ring she got from Vannie, that enticing woman now long laid low. And her Aunt Theora, who took up painting later in life and developed into an acclaimed, self-taught artist.

Here’s another thing MayBelle loathes: “Why did you wait so long to marry?” Because, she wants to snap back, it took that long for Precious to get here. Plus, if you must know, the only guy who asked her before that was drunk at the time, and the only one she thought she might have wanted ended up marrying a friend of hers. Two friends, actually, after the first one divorced him.

MayBelle may have been a little slow to matters of the heart, not having dated much in her life, but she did know enough not to say “I do” simply to avoid living alone. So when MayBelle and Precious, who is six years older than she, announced they were getting married she thinks they were as surprised as anyone. And really, really, grateful.

MayBelle heard the whispers, though, people saying they wondered if she knew everything about him, and did he know how much MayBelle adored (the word “worshipped” might have been employed, for emphasis) her father?

“No wonder she didn’t marry until after her father died,” was an especially insightful barb tossed her way. (Did MayBelle’s sarcastic tone come through there? If not, let her know and she’ll try again.) Baggage all around. Of course there’s baggage, MayBelle wanted to shout; we’re alive, aren’t we? And in our forties, for goodness sake. No baggage, no fully lived life, thinks MayBelle.

Those comments reminded MayBelle, in an intensely personal way, about the need for minding one’s own business: Don’t think you know best about other people’s lives. Tend your own instead.

And here they are, celebrating fifteen years of marriage. It’s not a lifetime, they realize, or an assurance of fifteen more, but it’s what they’ve got, and they’ll take it. They celebrated, in part, by hiking to a beautiful spot in western North Carolina, even though Precious’ idea of outdoorsy is being on the golf course and MayBelle has only recently taken to exercising. This is what marriage looks like to them: Walking side by side, even when the husband wears shoes meant for strolling, not trail trekking, and the wife keeps asking if they should turn back. Four feet, two hearts, one team.

MayBelle and Precious are not the kind of people who think love is enough. They don’t post on social media (Can you imagine Precious on Facebook?) about having “the most perfect spouse in the world,” and they don’t take much for granted. They think you need love, sure, but you also need luck, and a bit of work. Commitment helps, and trust, and all sorts of other intangible components that contribute to tangible sustainability.

So MayBelle and Precious can both tell you when they “ just knew” they were meant to be together, although they can’t necessarily tell you one another’s favorite flavor of ice cream. And no, they don’t have an “our song,” but if they did, it would be John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

 

 

 

 

Estate Sale Blues {On What’s Left Behind}

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Seen at yet another estate sale. MayBelle’s mother used to wear Ferragamos, before she got so old, she’d say, that she had to trade fashion for function.

Often MayBelle doesn’t miss her deceased parents on those days you might consider made for mourning: death anniversaries, family birthdays, major holidays. Most likely she begins to cry, or is forced to her knees, at unpredictable times and in unexpected places.

Like this weekend, when she went to an estate sale, the kind where it’s obvious someone has left the house for good, as opposed to a garage sale intended to make room for more stuff. What’s left is what’s left behind, after the inhabitant has died or moved to a retirement community or skilled nursing facility, perhaps. For some reason, in her mother’s final days, MayBelle much preferred “skilled nursing facility” over “nursing home.” She was choosing her words deliberately, she surmises, so that she might survive the fact that her mother could no longer care for herself in a meaningful way.

MayBelle knows the territory because she’s been there, deciding what stays in the family, what gets donated or sold, what needs to be discarded. How to choose between a memory and a marble candlestick? Indeed.

As she made her way through the tidy townhouse, MayBelle looked for old postcards and photographs, small things she might use as writing prompts or for her art projects. Exiting a bedroom she glanced in the closet, where she noticed clothes like her mother wore in her later years: matching, machine washable, sturdy with a hint of style. MayBelle began to weep, seeing the same brands she and her sisters used to buy for their mother, clinging to any last gesture they might offer her when so much had been taken away. For a while there, MayBelle could tell any woman of a certain era where to get the best deals on Alfred Dunner and high-waisted cotton underwear.

MayBelle is what’s known as a “highly sensitive person”—yes, it’s a thing—and she can be moved to despair at warp speed. Bless her heart. She is also a person with an estate sale problem. Probably she should not spend so much time rummaging around in the pasts of strangers, as it often makes her sad and she does not need even one more tea towel. But this weekend it is where MayBelle found herself, wondering what had happened to the homeowner (was it a happy life?), forking over eleven dollars, and missing her mother.

Watch Your Step {On Noticing}

IMG_7718While walking in the Radnor Lake Natural Area near her home in Nashville over the weekend, MayBelle stopped to watch some deer feeding among the trees. Lovely, calm creatures nourishing their bodies while MayBelle filled her soul. It was one of those quiet, still moments that keeps MayBelle going when she thinks all the noise and unsettledness in the world at large might overtake her. She has come to crave time in nature, finding it to be as sacred as any brick and mortar church she’s ever knelt down in.

Soon she heard some Very Loud People headed her way, in the form of two young women debating with enthusiasm the best bars in Tuscaloosa. MayBelle heard enough to be able to make some recommendations, so let her know the next time you’re headed that way and she’ll hook you up. Consumed by their chatter, they almost ran smack into MayBelle, who had stepped to the far side of the trail. She had not called out to the women so as not to disturb the deer. MayBelle is nothing if not polite, even when meandering in the woods.

“Oh,” said one of the women as she stopped short in front of MayBelle. “What are you looking at?”

MayBelle tiled her head in the direction of the deer.

“Wow,” the other woman said. “We hadn’t even noticed.”

Indeed, thought MayBelle as the deer skittered away.

There were other delights during MayBelle’s time in nature, like the big woodpecker beating his heart out; the call of the turkeys; lines of turtles on logs. And, alas, there were other Very Loud People. But MayBelle is learning, slowly, how to tune out what she doesn’t need to hear and instead concentrate on what really matters.

 

What’s a Middle-Aged Goober Doing at Blissdom?

I don’t really know from blogging. As a professional writer and editor who has worked in the publishing world for 25 years, I know about words. As a woman nearing fifty, I know about marrying late, burying my father (the first love of my life), caring for my elderly mother, and wondering if I’ll get it all done before my time is up. As a retreat leader and workshop facilitator, I know it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us. And here I’m talking about the tough stories, the ones about loss, and grief, and regrets, and dreams denied that all too often our society/family/religion/ego wants us to keep to ourselves.

But this whole blogging thing has me a bit stymied: Do I need a catchy theme, with a title that enhances SEO? (I do actually know what that stands for, thanks to Randy Elrod.) Do I have to be a “mommy blogger”? If so, I’m screwed, because I blog under my own name and I do not have children. So where does that leave me, a middle-aged goober who encourages women to write their hearts out?

For starters, it leaves me looking for all the guidance I can lap up. So last week I headed out to Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attended the Blissdom Conference. (I was miffed last year when I heard about it after the fact, and couldn’t believe I was so out of the loop in my own town.)

I walked in knowing I would see at least one familiar face, because we’d promised one another we’d take turns rescuing whichever one of us was feeling more vulnerable, as we were both stepping outside our comfort zone. I ended up knowing several folks, and even ran across a co-worker from Her Nashville. But mostly I interacted with women I had never met or even heard of.

And here’s what I learned:
There are women—women just like you and me—doing amazing things online: advocating for charitable causes, exposing issues surrounding small farms and raw foods, inspiring better parenting, making all sorts of crafty items, cooking healthy food, finding their way through addiction. The list goes on, and that list can be both freeing, “there’s room for everyone,” and intimidating, “who do I think I am.” What the Blissdom panelists and speakers modeled for me is that there is still plenty of room, and that if I think I’m the one to tell a certain story in a certain way, then I am. Funny, that’s exactly how I advise the women in my writing workshops: you’re the only one who can tell your story and yes, the world has room for it. Let’s write it, and then we’ll worry about what to do with it.

But there was more: conversations with women from all over the country that I never would have met otherwise; time for socializing in an environment free from competition for who has the most Twitter followers (not me); great swag, really, the best conference happies ever; delicious food; and the playing of “Party in America,” “Party in the USA,” which made the menopausal me burst into tears (in a good way). On top of all that, I heard Brene Brown, whose book The Gifts of Imperfection is already informing my work; and Scott Stratten, on whom I think I have developed a crush. (Please don’t tell Precious.) I think I even made a few new friends.

In the end, there were women there who’ve been blogging longer than I have, and women who have just started; women who have confidence in themselves, and their words, and women who wonder if they’ll ever bring themselves to hit “publish”; women who are younger and thinner, and women who share my creaky knees and desire to lose weight. But our common denominator remains: we all have stories worth telling.

Of Middle-Aged Dreams and the Demise of the Bookstore

I am a middle-aged goober who still has dreams, even though I don’t have as much time to get them accomplished as I once did, seeing that I’m staring 50 in the face. To wit: I’d like to lose some weight, write a novel, and buy an old farmhouse where creative types can come to write and commune and hang out. And I wanted, as much as anything, really, to have a book signing at the Davis-Kidd bookstore in Nashville. On November 2, that dream came true for me. And this week came word that the store will close by the end of the year.

Back in 1993, my parents sat with me at the Davis-Kidd café as I signed the papers to buy my first home in Nashville. The store was at a different location then, one that felt like home. My father was still alive, and I was thinner, and single, and dreaming of being a writer. It was the place where I heard Mary Karr for the first time; where I discovered the work of Ann Hood, a writer I would later study with at Chautauqua; where I spent many an enjoyable Friday evening listening to music and having dinner; and where I could find those literary journals no one else carries.

When Davis-Kidd moved to the Green Hills Mall a while back, it didn’t “feel right” to me, but I like to think I understand progress, and commerce, and foot traffic. And it still seemed like home in many respects, just a bigger, less cozy one.

Thank you, Davis-Kidd, for the books, and the tuna melts, and the memories. And the dream come true.