“There’s a door you can walk through that used to be a wall.” –Prince
It’s early morning and I’ve just driven off the Vashon Island ferry in Washington State. The Puget Sound is a silver mirror for the towering dark evergreens. An amber glow in the sky provides a mysterious backdrop for the sharp, snowy peaks of the Cascade Mountains.
Weathered Christmas wreathes still hang from the lamp posts in the little town of Vashon. As I walk into La Boucherie, the butcher shop and gourmet restaurant where my daughter Rose spends much of her time, a brass bell rings. I glance down and notice it is one of the Christmas bells that belonged to my father. Tears fill my eyes at such a sentimental greeting and a fleeting sense of his presence.
And then my tall, dark-haired Rose, in butcher apron and work boots, is rushing into my embrace. “Mommy,” she calls out and nuzzles her nose into the hair against my neck, her arms wrapped tightly around me. Though my ‘baby’ is now 24, I am still ‘Mommy,” and I adore that!
I have come to take a needed respite from the ‘sea of human suffering’ in which I swim each workday as a therapist. And I have found an island of refuge! Rose leads me to a counter top where she is in the process of making Mortadella; an Italian meat dish. Prince’s new album is playing. Rose and I pause to dance for a few moments.
It’s been a rough week, replete with invisible barriers that seem to block progress with my new year’s goals, despite my efforts. I feel unorganized, behind, running to catch up with my own life…but not here on Vashon with Rose and her enthusiasm. I am inspired by her invincible desire to be in the driver’s seat of her life. Just two years ago she was mostly bottling milk, making cheese, and working at the market for Sea Breeze farms.
Now she helps butcher the animals, runs the restaurant, organizes the ‘farm to table’ five-course dinners, and is going to Italy in two months to attend a cheese-making seminar.
We gab the morning away. Afternoon offers me a few hours all to myself. I walk along serene country roads and reflect on my life. As I’ve written in previous articles, I have been trying to work on a memoir and have been offered assistance in getting an agent by a friend in the industry. The first few weeks of the new year have left me questioning my ability to complete such a major undertaking at this time, but I also feel urgency about using the rest of my life to live true to my deep desires.
A few days earlier I had a discussion with my husband, Brian. “I have felt strongly about this book, but now I am questioning myself,” I told him. “I’m wondering if it is realistic. I’m feeling some despair that it might not be. I’m not sure what to do.”
He is a wise man and knows me well.
“What if you were kind and gentle with yourself around this?” he asked. “Maybe patience with the process is what your life is asking for right now.”
He reminded me that our work and desires are indeed processes that often unfold over a long period of time. And he shared with me a sense he had that what is holding me back perhaps has less to do with the everyday responsibilities of my life and more to do with something inside of myself.
I pondered this as I walked into Vashon Bookshop in town a bit late. Rose had given me a store gift-card for Christmas. I perused the shelves for a few minutes, noticing possibilities, and then my attention was immediately captured by a new book on display: Your Life is a Book, How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann. I opened its covers and had a ‘God is aware of me’ moment.
There was the path laid out for me in friendly, welcoming chapters such as “Start Anywhere,” “Follow the Thread,” “Showing Up,” “Field Notes on Your Life,” and “Finding Your Own Voice.” Just reading the table of contents felt like a brief instruction guide for overcoming the obstacles to writing that perhaps I am creating myself!
The guideposts in the book are not only helpful for me in getting through the obstacles to writing my memoir, but they can also be applied to any obstacle we may be trying to overcome in life.
Let’s start with “Start Anywhere.”
In my work as a therapist, I find that clients often feel an urgency to have you know their whole story and understand what the problem is in the first session. What they don’t yet know is that they can start anywhere and will always end up where they need to be. It can be very challenging to give ourselves permission to just start right where we are. But it also simplifies life.
“Following the Thread” can mean trusting the process. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward,” Apple founder Steve Jobs said in a commencement address at Stanford University. “So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
The most powerful tool we have in following the thread is trust of our own intuition. Don’t discount the still small voice within you. Listen to it!
“Showing Up” just means doing something, anything, to get around the obstacle. Make a phone call. Ask for help. Sit down and work on the task or problem. I find that the biggest obstacle to this step exists right inside my own head! I have an ongoing story about how hard writing is. How perfect it needs to be. How this! How that! But guess what? I can hear the noise and write anyway! Then I discover the writing has a life of its own, like any goal, desire, or creative project.
“Field Notes on Our Lives” and “Finding Our Own Voice” have similarities. One thing I am good at is carrying a notebook everywhere I go. When a thought comes, I write it down. This is how most of my articles start. And by writing down what I think and what I notice, I learn about who I am, what matters to me, and what I have to say. Our voice is already there, inside of us. Our job is to create a space where it is welcomed, a place we can tell ourselves our deepest truth – one of the most empowering ways to overcome an obstacle. Often it’s a difficult truth, but truth, no matter how searing, is always freeing because it acknowledges what really is.
Obstacles are often empowered by the story we tell ourselves about them. As I was struggling how to end this article I happened to turn my head and noticed the cover of a small notebook I have been using for my thoughts and observations. It reads: “She believed she could, so she did!”