Bird by Bird

You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.
— Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

I’ve felt this way before. Pregnant with an aspiration that for the life of me I can’t find an easy way to birth.

There was a time in my life when I would have just started already, but I’ve done that enough times now that I know there’s more to it than just jumping and figuring things out during the fall. Ignorance is only bliss until reality shows up. "Vulnerability hangovers,” as Brene Brown has coined them, are a real thing.

But the alternative is living with a desire that never moves out of our hearts because the unknown is too scary. And, I believe that dreams that we don’t explore… we don’t ever let see the light of day… can manifest themselves in negative ways like grumpiness or anxiety or depression or tiredness or worse... on a cellular level.

I love to write. But, I only know how to do it one way: painstakingly candid.

And, writing honestly is mildly terrifying. Being vanilla may be boring, but it’s safe. (Except maybe… on a cellular level.)

I’ve been trying for a long time to decide if I am brave enough to face the potential negativity that comes with expressing oneself honestly. What I’m not having a problem deciding is if I’m okay missing out on a life that has only my name on it. My life is just a breath, this I know, but I don’t believe God gave me a breath to go wasted.

So, I’ve been doing what I often do when I'm feeling the heat to jump already. I’ve been living in my mind. And I’ve been obsessively studying others who have jumped. And I’ve been reading. A lot.

I tell my photography students there’s a time and place to study others’ work and words and there’s a much bigger place to not study anyone’s work. It’s easy to fill our minds with so much of others’ truths and creativity that we can no longer decipher what’s our story to tell (or live, but that’s a post for another day).

Since I know all the answers I did exactly what I knew I shouldn’t do and I read even more. Memoirs and self-help books and blogs and the Bible and then one day I stumbled (literally it was a holy find, a gift for me) onto a graphic online that had a quote that grabbed my attention. I don’t even remember the quote, but it prompted me to search the title of the book and I was so intrigued by it I bought the Kindle version immediately, put the kids down for a nap and began to scroll through the book with urgency.

It was Anne Lamott’s book titled, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

I’m not even done with it, but I can tell you that it’s brilliant and inspiring and so so practical.

“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.

I highlighted the line in bright yellow.

She replies to whichever student at the time wails the line by charging to, “Start with your childhood. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flanner O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. So start with Kindergarten.”

And, then I let out a ginormous-humongous sigh of relief because that was what I needed. When we’re stuck inside our heads sometimes we just need someone to push us… to boss us around.

I’m a big believer of returning to your childhood memories because most of the answers to our weirdness and our goodness can be found there. Our childhood shapes us (not to be confused with defines us, although sometimes it does that, too).

And, it’s fitting for me to start at Kindergarten because it was one of the most significant years of my life. The year I was in Kindergarten was the year my brother died.

The following day I put the girls down for a nap and I sat down on my bed with my computer and I began to write. This time, the words came effortlessly and soon I was crying. My free time ran out and I returned to motherhood and before I could muster up the bravery to show it to anyone or even finish it for that matter I suffered yet another vulnerability hangover. I felt silly for writing it. For returning to the source of that memory that holds so much emotion. I felt silly for wanting to be a writer at all. Everyone has a story to be told. Why do I think people will care about mine?

Days turned into weeks and although I thought about writing every single day I couldn’t even muster up the courage to open my computer. If I had only written as much as I thought about writing I would have written a 200-page book by now. It would have been a really shitty first draft and I would have been mortified if anyone had read it, but I would have been outputting a bit of all of my inputting and I don’t think I would have felt quite so conflicted internally. So stuck.

I’m fascinated by people who get stuck in life. Who want to do something big and bold, but don’t. Like why not, I often wonder? What is holding you back? This life is so short! Majority of the time when we say out loud the reasons we have said no to pursuing life goals it's because of really small reasons that can be overcome with ease. It’s often a mind over matter problem. But for me… I’m too close to the problem. I couldn’t figure out my own limiting beliefs no matter how much I had mental anguish over it.

But then I had this really surprising moment of clarity last night that I knew was truth because of how much it made me feel simultaneously free and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the house was asleep and I was editing photos and watching TV. A girl on the show I was watching was talking about her late husband’s death and how nothing makes her cry anymore. She described herself as a tough cookie. But, some events unfolded during the show and there she was sitting with his ashes, wiping the tears off her face. She had grown numb because it was her way of surviving.

And, in that moment I saw myself. Because as much as I am willing to talk about the 9 years we’ve never been able to get pregnant (minus that one time) I've numbed myself to the ability to feel it.

I have never been shy about expressing what or how I am feeling about most everything in life. And, I really love bold and brave people who can do the same. Being vulnerable with one another is far more difficult to actually do than it is to read or write about. To be able to not only cry with each other, but to also talk about things that are really important – like hopes and dreams and fears and struggles and disappointments and things we’re feeling proud of – is what makes this complicated life sincere and rich and meaningful.

But sometimes there’s something in your life that you just don’t want to talk about anymore. Too much time has passed or the topic has been exhausted or sadness has outstayed her welcome or for your sanity you just need to move on or ALL OF THE ABOVE. Focusing on the present isn’t just a quote hanging in one’s kitchen. It’s deliverance. Finding a new perspective and purpose and meaning is a non-negotiable. And, talking about the wound again and again sort of feels like continually putting a fresh band-aid over an old wound even though letting it breathe is what you know will bring it healing.

This doesn't mean their isn't a scar, but sometimes you just need freedom to not give the scar so much energy.

The moment of clarity I had that’s put me in a basket of uncertainty is this: is being numb synonymous with being changed? Like the way a death changes you? Or the way an unwelcomed life transition changes you? Like the way finding out you've been lied to changes you? Or the way 9-years of infertility changes you?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s changed me.

Because there was a time when I had a lot of fight in me. And there was a time when I was willing to try everything. And there was a time when I knew it would happen, it was only a matter of time. And there was a time when talking about it and writing about it was incredibly therapeutic for me. And there was a time when I cried A LOT.

But now, I’m a lot more resolved. And, I’m no longer willing to try everything. I’m no longer sure it will happen and with each passing year I actually feel a little more convinced it won’t happen. And, I don’t want to talk about it or write about it all the time. And nowadays it rarely makes me cry.

Infertility has changed me.

But if one side of the coin is a changed me then on the flipside is where numbness resides. And I find myself still with resiliency and a stubbornness that makes me want to buff that coin clean to allow the emotions hiding under the numbness the freedom to breathe again.

Because numbness is like vanilla. It’s safe. It’s a winter parka and Uggs. IT'S ISOLATING.

Letting myself feel sad or afraid or disappointed is dangerous. It’s choosing to sit in Times Square naked. But only if I refuse to hide do I give camaraderie a chance to be enjoyed.

I suck at doing scary things and giving people an inside look at what it looks and feels like to be infertile sounds and feels terrifying to me. But, in all of my obsessive reading I read something somewhere that not doing that thing we feel we are being called to do is not only cheating ourselves, but the rest of the world as well. I don’t want my one fleeting breath of a life to be one that fear controlled.

You know how the more you drink alcohol the higher your tolerance gets? I’m really hoping that writing works the same way… the more scary writing you do the higher your tolerance to vulnerability hangovers get. I’m really banking on this.

.....

I went to an infertility doctor for the first time in 5 years the other day. The check-in counter was filled with Christmas cactuses that hadn’t been watered in quite some time. They were all empty and sad and sagging off the edges of their pots. I sat down and stared at their sad little selves and thought to myself that if my options are to find solidarity in the plants or get over myself, write my story already and find solidarity in humans living near and far sharing my same story I would chose option B all day, every day.

So, here's my awkward start to buffing my coin...

jc

p.s. I wrote most of this last night and I knew for certain I would share it when I stepped into my bathroom to brush my teeth and realized I felt like a heavy wool blanket had fallen off my shoulders. Freedom comes with truth-telling.

p.p.s. I’ve been thinking a lot today about how numbness dulls sadness, but it also dulls joy. So, I know for certain that buffing away the numbness will also let a whole lot of beautiful things breathe again and for that I'm ready.

p.p.s.s. Thanks for being here. You matter to me.