Golden Handcuffs, Part Two

Part One of this two-part blog post can be found HERE)

I’m not gonna quit.

At least any time soon.

I am choosing to keep the golden handcuffs on.

Well.

Sort of.

Allow me to explain.

Just an hour from my home is Amboy, Washington,  a beautiful small town in the Lewis River Valley. Teeming with lush old growth forest of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, it is an area that has captured my imagination of what could be should we ever decide to own a property outside of the city. I used to fantasize about selling our house and moving away from Portland and was always prowling real estate listings in that particular county. But then I realized I am a lifelong bonafide city girl. I like to visit the countryside; I do not want  to live away from all the city life conveniences I have come to enjoy and rely upon.forest

So I have kept this little dream about owning some kind of property in the forest, a getaway property. A small cabin maybe? But small, affordable cabins in pristine forested land is actually hard to come by. At least for what we can afford. Besides, how could we possibly manage owning two properties?

And then there’s the spooky wilderness. I love the wilderness by day. I get nervous in it at night if no one else is around. That’s why I like camping so much. We are surrounded by other campers which helps me feel safe. And we always leave too early … I am almost never ready to leave the forest and head back to our urban-dense homestead. How many times have I said to Jerry as we drive out, “I wish we had a place all our own in the forest, a getaway place.” Yep, me too, he always says. I love how compatible he and I have remained 27 years into this marriage. I think it’s working out.

Stay with me… there is a point to all this. A great big, golden handcuff point…

On my hardest shifts at work I try to escape the drudgery of it all by imagining myself in the forest. I daydream about the smell, the earthy, mossy scent of a massive grove of cedars. I  picture the slender limbs of vine maples clustered upon  beds of verdant green ferns. As I push and shove and haul 2,000 pound doughs around the proof room, I secretly long for a real-life place to escape, a place to recover from the chaos of city life and demanding work schedules, a place to heal and rejuvenate. The forest is good medicine for me.

Enter my friend and coworker Nancy. She had been telling me about her recreation site at a private campground called Lake Merwin Campers Hideaway. It’s in the Lewis River valley, the very area I have eyed for the last couple of years. Camper’s Hideaway is a 36 acre campground with 1500 sites. Members own their site and develop it with a camper trailer. Many add decks and sun porches making their camper site appear almost like a cabin. As she showed me around her site and her neighbors, my imagination began to soar.

Campers Hideaway

Our Hideaway site includes a spacious deck and sunroom with a woodstove. Look at all that luscious forest greenery!

It’s affordable. It’s accessible. It’s a community of campers in the woods.

The next week Jerry and I were out there. We found a site ideal for us, right on the perimeter of the camp meaning it is very private and is surrounded on two sides by gorgeous state forest land. I wondered and wondered…. is it worth it to choose to stay on at a job that has sucked the vitality out of me to have my dream of a place in the forest?

campershideaway2

Here you can see how the enclosure is built around the camper trailer creating an almost cabin-like atmosphere.

Jerry left it up to me. He did not pressure me either way knowing that I am the one who will carry the brunt of whether I stay on at Nabisco so we can afford the site or if I leave for a lesser paying job with an easier schedule and forego owning a little place in the woods.

It was actually not a hard decision at all.

And that is why  I have resolved to continue working at Nabisco to help pay for our place at Camper’s Hideaway. We should have the keys in about two weeks.

There is more to this decision than just a getaway place. Conditions have eased up considerably at work. I have been at the plant nearly three years. It was a season of about eight months that nearly did me in.  But now the schedule has returned to normal. I am rested. I am sane. And when I am rested and sane I am able to think more clearly and see with greater clarity. I am able to actually enjoy the people I work with and the great humor that often breaks out out on the floor.

One coworker often pranks me to the point that we are in helpless hysterics with me doing the Don’t-Make-Me-Pee-In-My-Pants dance.  (You know who you are!!)  I have slowly been developing genuine connections with some of my coworkers. I am finding my tribe within the Nabisco camaraderie. Like one coworker who is an amazing artist. She invites a few people to her art studio every month for a wine and painting party. She has an art studio and is a prolific artist as well as a full-time factory worker. She inspires me. Dont-look-back

With a saner work schedule I have been able to recall how my coworkers  rose to the occasion to support my family when Jeremy had cancer. Several coworkers, whom I barely knew at the time, organized a raffle and sold tickets for a whole month. Many people donated prizes for the raffle and many more bought tickets. When my son was presented with the raffle money, he and Jerry and I were speechless. The generosity was in the thousands… the thousands! I remain deeply grateful for the outpouring of care my coworkers demonstrated to my family during that difficult time.  In the midst of what can be a brutal workplace are many workers of Light.

As soon as our offer for the site at Camper’s Hideaway was accepted, serenity filled my inner being. Peace – and her sister Joy – came inside. I have been missing the two of them for quite some time. I’m so glad they are back.

It was cool talking to the owner of the site. She is an artist and a writer. She said the previous owner was also an artist. “I don’t want to sound weird,” she said, “but this place has tremendous creative energy. You just feel it the minute you get here.”

There is even a small out building that I could convert into a creative studio. Imagine!

So is this what it means to wear golden handcuffs? To remain entrapped to a miserable job because you can’t free yourself from the lucrative paycheck and benefits?

Yes. And no.

Yes, because it is true. I need to stay on a job that’s not my favorite in order to afford this little place in the woods. And no, because I am not a prisoner to this job nor any job. I can quit. I can stay. I can look for another job. I can return to the hospital. I can make it work and stay on a few more years. I Have Options. I get to decide what to do with the resources that are in my life. I choose to work in a healthy partnership with Jerry so that together we are making wise decisions we can sustain for the long run. Owning a getaway out of overcrowded Portland is an option we get to exercise together. It is something we can share with not only one another, but with our children, our future grandchildren (future!) as well as our friends.  We can barely afford it if I make less money. We can easily afford it with me working at Nabisco. At this stage of our lives, we want to avoid the barely-afford-it category.

When I wrote about the harsh schedule and the toll it has taken on me nearly every commentor  advised me to Run. I’d tell me to run too, based on that blog post. But that was only part of the story, granted it was the hardest, darkest part of my work story, and yes, I can in no way sustain that kind of chronic stress again. And I won’t. I have now had ample time to rebuild my inner resilience. I have strategies in place to protect my vitality should our company ever work us to the bone that way again. I have turned a corner in my workplace.

Plus,  I now  have a hideaway in the woods, a place to retreat to where the forest can work it’s healing magic upon my body, soul and mind. Because it is in a camping community, or Glamping,  as some like to call it (Glamorized Camping = Glamping), I feel secure enough that I can even go by myself. My tree-hugging hippie 22-year old daughter can also enjoy the space and I won’t fret knowing that there is year-round onsite management.

So there you have it. The saga of my  workplace struggles and how I’ve decided to stay. It doesn’t mean I’m staying for a lifetime. It is just for  a few short years to help pay for our Hideaway place. I’m still young enough that there could always be a job change in the future if I decide to leave.

I realize that many must make vocational decisions in order to pay the rent and keep food on the table. I am mindful of the privilege I possess where I am making a decision to afford a getaway while also helping pay monthly bills. I am so done with feeling guilty for my privilege. I work hard, and so does my husband. We have worked hard to stay together for 27 years. Our partnership is the foundation of what gives me such privilege. A stable marriage is a treasure, hard won and hard kept. I am incredibly grateful for mine for all kinds of reasons. That’s another blog post for another time, how my  marriage really works and makes it in the real world, stormy times and all.

FindwhatmattersI made some new art last night. The message on it, Find What Matters to You, sums up
what drove me to this decision. It matters to me to retreat to the forest as often as I can whenever I can. Having our own Hogeweide Hideaway means I can do that. I look forward to new inspiration for art, writing and Life as we spend time at our getaway in the forest.

What do you think? Am I crazy? Have you ever had a new plot twist show up in your life that affected a major decision? 

 

 

Part One : Golden Handcuffs

I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.

I stifled a small sob as I used the power equipment to move an oversized trough full of dough into it’s place. It was another 13-hour shift, my fourth one that week. I had not had a day off in two weeks.  My body was exhausted, my arms ached from being overworked. Sometimes I would wake up at night in pain, my forearms throbbing with an intensity that matched my emotional bleakness.cocoapam

I felt weak. My coworkers, many working as hard or even harder than I, seemed to cope much better with the excessive overtime. My husband, who has worked at this factory for fifteen years, kept telling me it would get better, that just as soon as our union contract, which was about to expire, was renewed that things would simmer down. “The company always pushes more production when it’s contract time,” he said. His attempt to reassure me fell flat. I had never felt more demoralized in a working environment in my entire life. I’ve held twelve different jobs over a thirty year span. This job has been  the worst and best of my life. The best because of the pay and benefits. It is a solid, union job with wages that are the most I have ever earned. I make as much my husband, something new in our 27-years of marriage. And though Jerry never lorded it over me, I always felt the gap of our earning power as I navigated motherhood and working at entry-level jobs with entry-level pay.

When Nabisco (yes, Nabisco!) was hiring again Jerry urged me to apply.  Yes, there would be some overtime and some weekends, but new hires often did not rack up the hours as senior employees scooped up the premium overtime pay. “It’ll be years before you work a Sunday,” predicted Jerry.

Before my second year anniversary I was working 60+ hours a week, including a lot of Sundays. The company, now owned by a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate, made it clear that they were intent on increasing their profit margins.That translated to workers like me being forced to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. My entire being was collapsing from the pressure.

“I’m not going to work tonight,” I cried as time inched closer to the start of my graveyard shift. “I am wiped out. I can’t even get out of bed.” I laid there like a little girl with the covers pulled over my head. I wanted to hide from my new world of long shifts and production quotas. My eyes were swollen from crying. Why did this job undo me so much?

I stayed home for the next three days. Where I work we can miss up to three shifts. It’s a ding on our attendance and too many dings will result in discipline and even termination. I have never worked in a place where I had to call in just to get time off to rest. I felt guilty. I knew that someone else would be forced to cover my shift, and yet that is the game. I covered plenty of overtime for other people when they called out, too, I rationalized. It’s not my fault the company chooses to run a thread-bare crew resulting in high absenteeism.

“I can’t sustain this, Jerry,” I lamented over and over again. “I have to quit. I cannot live my life this way. It is crushing me.”

Jerry and I had many conversations about my exit plan. We were enjoying the two incomes from the job, yet not beholden to it. We avoided the Golden Handcuff syndrome that enslaves so many workers to stay in jobs they hate.

It was decided. I would leave the company by summertime. We would build up our savings and then I would resign.  I contacted my former boss and coworkers who all encouraged me to return. I used to work as a patient food server at a large hospital. I loved that job, my most favorite job of my working life. The only reason I left was for the Big Money … and to work at the same place as my husband. Besides, how COOL IS IT  to have bragging rights that we make America’s favorite cookie, the iconic Oreo, as well as other beloved Nabisco snacks?

Despite having an exit strategy, the weight of long work hours that isolated me from my community of friends, continued to take it’s toll on me. I would spontaneously start crying over the smallest of things, even at work, which freaked me out. I often worked alone and would just start quietly crying and feeling terribly sorry for myself and the fuckedupness of it all.   Many times I came home sobbing as I dragged my tired body through the front door. My emotions swung wildly from immense self-pity to deep shame for the pity parties I kept throwing myself. Dammit, Pam, get your shit together. At least you have a good paying job! There was no end to the floggings.

I went to four funerals in one month the summer of 2007; I have been through cancer with my teenage son… but it is this job that has me undone. What the hell is that all about? What is wrong with me?

I finally made an appointment with a therapist. I had been reading up on chronic stress and began to connect the dots of why my job was pushing me to the brink. I laughed when I read the remedy for chronic stress : Rest. Personal Time. Exercise. Um, yeah, right, I’ll get on that just as soon as I maybe get one or two days off this month.

It’s somewhat miraculous that I managed to keep my appointments with the therapist, but somehow I did. Talking with her helped me understand the root cause of why a job… A JOB… had brought me to such a low point. It was like my entire being, body-soul-spirit, had been assailed. The therapist boiled it down to a simple metaphor about Resilience.

we_can_do_it-resized-small

“Resilience is like a water tank,” explained the therapist. “The tank has to be constantly filled because it is constantly draining.  Life with  all of it’s stresses keep the tank draining.”

Resilience is the ability to harness inner strength to weather through life’s challenges. Not to be confused with stoicism or toughing it out, resilience is the ability to roll with it and adapt.

We talked about the stressors I had endured in the preceding two years : the stress of changing jobs,  the tremendous year-long stress of our son having cancer, and as soon as I got through that with barely time to catch my breath, the overtime at work kicked in so hard that even the old-timers   were shaking their heads.

“Your resilience tank has been tapped out. Chronic stress strips you of your ability to cope. You have no reservoir to draw from,” she explained.

This  helped me feel less crazy and ashamed for not being Super Woman. I even began to confide to some of coworkers what was going on. “This job makes me feel weak,” I said to one woman.  “Me, too,” she said. And then she began crying. I was not the only one. THAT knowledge, that I was not the only one falling apart from workplace-related stress, somehow comforted me. It empowered me. I began to Own My Story of how the journey of my life had brought me to this low-point. Through journaling and making art I resolved to give myself permission to be weak. Self-acceptance is an effective remedy against self-pity.

As I made my peace with my exit plan a small splinter of fretting started irritating my conscience. Quiet whispers   in the back, the way back, where thoughts I don’t like to acknowledge hang out. You’ll never make this kind of money again. Are you sure you should walk away? The hospital will never pay you as well. 

Life is more than money. What is my vitality worth? You only live once. 

These were my mantras, my prayers as it were, as I leaned into the Spirit for guidance and wisdom.

“This place is a dream killer,” said someone on the management team to me in casual conversation. “The golden handcuffs keep people shackled here for more years than they want.”golden-handcuffs

Not me,  not me, I told him. I am gonna leave. No golden handcuffs on these wrists.

Last month the excessive overtime came to a sudden halt just as our union contract expired. Just as Jerry predicted. Many people have recently retired and  the company is hiring many new people right now.  My seniority, once rock bottom in my department, is now climbing the list. Where I work, your place in rank makes all the difference to the shift you have, the job your assigned and the amount of OT you are forced to work. I have been off the last four weekends, in part because the schedule has calmed down and also because my name has climbed higher on the list. My resilience tank is full. I don’t burst into tears over the slightest pressures anymore. I have not missed a shift for a while. Could a future here be possible?

That is the big question. Do I stay or do I go?  Do I have to sacrifice life/work balance to work here? Do I have to let my vitality take a hit for financial security? (which really, there is no true financial security in the world of manufacturing as jobs are outsourced to low-paying unregulated nations, including Nabisco jobs).   Where I work determines so many choices in life, family and the future. It’s not just about a job. It’s about my livelihood. It’s about my life. And me, being me who tends to fret over little  things and big things as well as over analyze every possible scenario to the nth degree, has been storm-tossed in the waters of indecision.

Welcome to my world.

It is a huge decision in my life. I am mindful of the privilege I possess to have choices and options. But this is my story, my privilege and I get to figure out the next part with all the angst of a post-modern Gen X-er.

I will blog about that in Part Two next week and tell you what I decided, how I settled it within  and what it means. The answer might not be as saintly as some might suppose.

Work is an integral part of my life, of all our lives. The jobs we do are not just about paychecks and paying bills. Our jobs shape us. They reveal parts of ourselves no other sphere in our lives reveal, including  our weaknesses and strengths. Where we work is where we trade our vitality for sustenance. What will I trade mine for? Can I maintain this resilience in this environment? Should  I return to the  job at the hospital?

I will tell All in Part Two.

***What about you? Have you ever felt the bindings of golden handcuffs? What did you do?

 

forest

A Forest at Home

I went to the woods several months ago with my husband. We rented a small cabin with big windows near a gorgeous Oregon mountain  river.  I reveled in the old growth forest that surrounded our little mountain getaway. Like sentries they stood, towering cedars and firs watching  over us as we rested from the chaos of city life and demanding work schedules. We went on a hike to nearby Mirror Lake.  Each breath I drew in was like a big drink of sweet well water. There is something about being in a grove of mossy  old-growth that is oh-so-good for … Read More …

Why I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian, but Maybe Really Not

church

Photo collage by architect Michael Jantzen who says, “I want to reinvent the built environment in order to extend the reach of consciousness.”

I used to carry a creed in my pocket, a bullet set of beliefs that I lived by. I knew my Bible (the sign of a well worn bible is the sign of a well fed soul…), I could pray anybody under the table as if public prayer was a drinking game. I taught Sunday school, served in missions in a foreign country, stopped cussing, drinking and smoking AND wore oversized shirts to hide my curves so as not to stumble my brothers into lustful thoughts.

Oh yeah, I was a rockstar good Christian woman. Seriously.

It is a long story, not the fairy tale or Guidepost magazine kind of story, of how I began slipping down the slippery slope into a place that the media likes to dub, The Dones.

The Dones are formerly religious people (like me) who are Done with organized, institutional faith. We are done with Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I once had a job where I became a source of workplace gossip when I managed to get Sundays off as a new hire, that’s how important the Sunday morning gig was to me. (When I decided I was done with church, my boss was actually a little concerned when I informed  her I was now available to work Sunday mornings. “Everything ok?” she asked.  I’m good, I reassured her. “I used to have something I was a part of on Sunday mornings, but now I am not a part of it anymore.”)

It felt kinda like a break-up.

That break-up story is another  blog post, how church  broke my heart over and over again until I finally wised up and got out of the dysfunctional relationship it had become.

I have not been to church in almost six years.

Leaving church did not mean I left the Faith.

However, once I was out of the cage and my faith was free to roam the wildlands of uncertainty, my faith started to shapeshift. For starters, I lost my creed out there in the elements. A gust of wind blew up on me and shredded my list of beliefs right out of my hands. I became mapless. And once mapless, I was forced to explore other vistas that were off the map. I became free from what author Jim Henderson aptly calls, beliefism. 

Fun fact: Merriam-Webster dictionary declared -ism to be the word of the year last year.

I have been living off the faith grid ever since.

Christianity for me became stifling. It was like being a settler in a small valley and insisting that there is nothing to be gained by exploring other settlements out there beyond the yonder. In the movie, The Village, the villagers are taught to stay within the confines of their village or else the lurking monsters nearby will attack them. If they are obedient, the monsters will leave them alone. (spoiler alert : there are no monsters)

You can imagine how much that film resonated with me as I lost my Christian creed.

And yet, despite being a heretic who has betrayed her Christian heritage, there remains in me a firm residue of faith and respect for the Christian tradition and those who adhere to her creeds. Just because me and Jesus would not be matched up on E-Harmony as soul mates doesn’t mean I am not interested. Jesus still loves me this I know, and I love him back. 

No matter what dogmas and doctrines have collapsed in my beliefs structure,  I have a rich heritage from my years as a bible-thumping-demon-stomping-spirit-filled-believer. I still speak the language fluently. I was getting a tattoo last year and during our conversation the tattoo artist began complaining how his born-again sister was driving him and the rest of the family crazy. “She will leave if we as much open up a beer,” he lamented of his devout Christian sibling.

I helped him understand that she was compelled by her Christian conscience and that once upon a time I would have done the exact same thing. “Respect her conscience,” I offered, “She is living by the conviction of her faith. Respect it.” I felt like a cross-cultural guide helping him interpret the weird customs his sister engaged with. Evangelicalism was a mystery to him. It is not to me, and never will be. I was a rockstar evangelical woman for years upon years. I know the lingo, the dress code and the rules of conduct. I sometimes feel haunted by my former evangelical self, like when I order a cocktail in a pub. The ghost of church-past  floats in accusing me of being a backslider.

I’ll drink to that.

Today, if my former Christian self were to meet my current self, she would be concernedxtianbeliefs for my soul. She would see that my current state of living does not match the checklist. I have completely abandoned some beliefs (like the doctrine of hell…. ugh…. never did like that one at all. Was a RELIEF to be done with it!)  while other beliefs remain in a state of flux in the gray. Was  Jesus the Unique and Only Son of God incarnate?

I used to say Yes without hesitation.

Now I’m not so sure what to think about Jesus and divinity, though I remain a fan of his parables and messages (forgive others, love one another, turn the other cheek, be a Good Samaritan). It doesn’t come up so much anymore when I meet people, an examination of faith…. but when it does, when I am asked point blank if I am a Christian, I reply, “I live my life the best I can according to the teachings of Jesus.”

Yes, that’s good, but Are you a Christian? What do you believe about Jesus?

Devout Christians would charge that  I am not a Christian. My former devout evangelical self would agree. But in the world of spirituality (I’m not religious, I’m spiritual)  I am considered pretty Jesus-y. I’m the woman who can drop F bombs all day long, but still will not use Christ’s name in vain or damn someone in the name of God. I do not flinch as some do when Jesus is spoken of and his words quoted.  I myself can still repeat Jesus’ words rather eloquently.

When I am faced with major life decisions, sheesh, even daily life decisions, I still pray for guidance and wisdom. I may have lost my map, but I still have my compass.

About three years ago I was invited to a Faith writer’s conference, even though I am clearly not a Christian writer .

I went anyway since I would know a few people there, people I enjoy and people who enjoy writing like I do. I looked forward to fresh inspiration about being a writer, and I was not disappointed. I still remember fragments from the talk one writer gave about tell The Story, not just the facts….  but when the worship band of young, shiny faced collegiates kicked into gear, something in me tensed up to the point that I quietly left the room and lingered for the next 20 minutes in the lobby. I like music, I really like LIVE music, so I was caught off guard why the onset of Christian praise music got such a rile out of me.

Was it the devil ?  :/

I didn’t psychoanalyze it too closely, but my best guess as to why the music affected me that way is because music is about emotion.  The dysfunctional relationship I ended with institutional Christianity came flooding back when the praise band fired up their first chords. It was like having an old boyfriend try to make out with me. Not gonna happen.

So… I am not a Christian, and yet I try my best to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. I do not read the Bible anymore. I do not go to church. I no longer believe you are going to hell if you don’t incite the right words to save your heathen soul. I am firmly comfortable living off the grid without a map in the wilderness of I-Don’t-Know-Anything-Anymore.

I like Oprah and sometimes tune into her Super Soul broadcasts online. I read spiritual books written by people who do not mention Jesus or the bible one single time in their pages. I use a personal tarot deck for inspiration and to tap into inner wisdom … oh yeah, I am now  a HUGE BELIEVER that we each possess the wisdom we need for our lives if we just pay attention and Listen.

And that is so very unchristian because as a church-abiding Christian I was taught that the heart is especially wicked and cannot be trusted, so therefore my wisdom and intuition are not to be trusted. I cannot begin to tell you the journey it has been to establish trust in my own divinely inspired inner guidance system. Trusting my higher self is rebellion against the Christendom that used to own my heart, mind, soul and body.

But I am not a Christian anymore. Well sort of. Kind of. But maybe really not.

 

***There is soooo much more to say about this. It is clear to me that I still have things I’d love to talk about in regard to being Done with institutionalized faith. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this one. Are you a Done, too, or do you want to save my soul when you read this? Back in the day I would have judged this blogpost as something written by a bitter, deceived woman. It is true I am scarred up from my years of church devotion, but bitter, no. Deceived? Maybe.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Irrational Life Decisions

Let yourself be silently
Drawn
By the strange pull of
What you
Really Love.

You will not be led astray.

   –Rumi

Rumi

Collage art by Pam Hogeweide

Sometimes I fantasize about heading out on the open highway instead of heading to the store for yet another food run. I heard a story on the podcast, This American Life, about a bus driver who in 1947 drove his New York City bus all the way to Florida. He disappeared for two weeks. His family did not know where he was. His boss certainly didn’t know where he was, but William Cimillo was done. He was done with the monotony and the routine and the drudgery of the life he found himself in.

When he was found and forced to return to New York City, he received a hero’s welcome. The Everyday Men and Women heralded him a working class hero for taking his life into his own hands and breaking the script. His family suffered not knowing where he was for those two weeks, and yet despite that inconsideration I, like those New Yorkers of 1947,  admire  his chutzpah for breaking away from the tried and true trail of the safe and tame.

I am at a place in my life as a middle-aged woman that playing  it safe makes good, rational sense. Taking risks is for the young, right? They have all the time in the world to right whatever mess-ups that might happen if they take the plunge over a risk-laden  cliff, like driving your bus off the job to a sunny Florida beach.

There is an itch in me that I can’t scratch these days, a restlessness that has me feeling caged up and suffocating in my daily existence like the bus driver. I’m not thinking about driving to Florida, but there is a big life decision on my horizon and I am biting at the bit to get to it and take the risk and change lanes of where my life is at. I am churning with anticipation while fear grips my guts.  

What is it about major life decisions – like job changes, hint hint – that brings to the surface every scalawag of an excuse for why I ought to remain as is,  to stand down as it were, from the center of my own existence. I drive myself and everyone around me ca-razzy with my over-analysis-obsessive-over-thinking when I am  determining a life-altering decision.

I have been summoning Wisdom to come to me in a variety of ways.

I pray. A lot.

I talk with friends. A lot.

I talk about every possible angle of The Decision with husband, who seriously should receive some kind of Husband of the Year award for enduring my neurosis.

I also search for wisdom while I make art. Many of the messages that I paint on my collage art pieces are words that I need to hear, messages that I tune in from the cosmic playlist I listen for when I am arting it up. I often hear encouragement this way.

A new way I am searching out guidance and affirmation about my Big Decision is using tarot. I used to think tarot cards were the work of the devil, an occult tool of witchery that must be avoided. But I now see tarot as a medium of  metaphors and  mini-stories that help seekers like me sort out what I need to sort out. There is a magical aspect to using tarot in that I have almost always drawn just the right cards with what was helpful to hear in the moment for whatever question I brought to the reading.

tarot

www.theportlandtarot.com

Today I drew this card in my 3-card reading >> Judgment<<.

This was intriguing to me because ever since my friend gave me this deck I have drawn this card several times. (Hello Universe, I am listening!) 

The meaning of this card is to realize I am the Key of what I have been seeking. I can trust in my own judgment to make decisions that are right for me, no matter how irrational they may appear to others. If I decide, for example,  to leave a well-paying job for a lesser paying job it may seem foolish on the outside, yet it may be the wisest decision for me and my life. I get to be the judge of that.

I follow author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) on Facebook. She posts the most wonderful Zen-like Facebook statuses that lift the spirit. Like this one, a story about her cousin who decided to up and move to New Zealand :

My cousin didn’t know anyone in this entire hemisphere. She had never before traveled. She feared she was “too old” to change her life. She had always been risk-averse, and the thought of moving across the world was terrifying. But she had been stuck for too long. She was suffocating in her day-to-day existence. She couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of faking happiness.

Then she realized: “If I don’t face my fears, I will never grow.”

So she did it. She followed some deep, irrational, inner instinct that led her right to this place. She planned to stay in New Zealand for only four months…but she has now stayed for four years. And holy shit, has she grown.

I just love that. It inspires me. I’m not planning to move to another country (not yet at least :)  ), but I am planning on a major life shift soon. I need to trust myself that I am on the right track, even though it seems irrational. Sometimes Wisdom is found in the irrational places, like a little bird hovering on the edge of a teacup.

That’s where I am hovering, in between worlds of where I am today and where I might be tomorrow.

What about you? Where are you hovering? Have you ever made the leap of faith for an irrational decision? A job change? A relocation? A new hair style? (hey, why not ?!!)

Tell me all about it in the comments!

I am Back (and I’m giving away ART to Celebrate!)

i'm backYES, I am still alive and kicking and am re-entering cyberspace with a spruced-up website and new direction for my blog. Curious? Read on!

It is has been exactly one day shy of a year since my last blogpost. I had wondered if it was time to put my vintage (ahem, outdated) website out to pasture. It has been a good run. I started blogging around 2006.Seriously, ten years ago! And while I’m no problogger or blogging-writer-rockstar, I do enjoy the self-expression blogging allows everyday women like me.

SO I AM BACK AT IT!

And I am back with a broadened perspective and new experiences that will take my blog to new places. Expect to see posts about art and the creative process, identity and how everything shapes us. You will see candid writings about my struggles with relationships and how I am an expert at social insecurity.

You can also expect to see shout-outs for other blogs and creative sites I have been discovering, as well as occasional book reviews. And yes, I will also write a smattering here and there about how my Christian spirituality has devolved to being barely recognizable starting with a post about How I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian But Really Not in the next couple weeks.

I realize that some readers may rather unsubscribe and move on despite the tempting blog parties and UNSUBgiveaways I’m planning. Click the Unsubscribe image to make your graceful exit from my subscriber list… and if you do leave, Thanks so much for letting me come around for as long as you did !!! Come back and visit some time!

If you are a new reader who wants to join the party, just click HERE to add your email to my subscriber list and you won’t miss a thing!

To celebrate my relaunch I will send three readers a free 8×10 high-quality  digital print of one of my original pieces of art. (take a look-see at my Art Page for a glimpse of what kind of art I’m talking about!) Just leave a comment to to let me know you’re here and on SUNDAY, Feb 21, I will draw three names.

I have spent weeks gussying up my digital space. Come take a look, poke around, make suggestions if you like and by all means, take off your shoes and stay awhile. We have a lot to catch up on!

So good to be back! Remember to leave a comment at my blog for a chance to win some cool free art.

Let’s do this!

-blueborder

 

 

 

The Queen of Sheba and I

shebaThe Bible is known for many things, but portraying strong women of resolution is not one of them. Yet when one pushes through the throng of Old Testament manly prophets and New Testament male-centric gospel tales, there is actually a bevy of kick-ass women to meet. The Queen of Sheba is one of them.

In my nearly three decades of church attendance, I don’t recall a single sermon devoted to unearthing the mystery of Sheba. Who is she? Why is she mentioned in the book of Kings in the Old Testament? What was the point of that? Is she the same woman Solomon wrote about in Song of Solomon? Was he in love with her? Her with him? And what does it matter? Why do I need to know anything about a has-been queen who had her five minutes of fame several millennium ago?

This is where novelist Tosca Lee comes in.

I first heard of Tosca through Jim Henderson, a writer friend of mine who has authored several books. Tosca and I both had the privilege of endorsing a book Jim wrote in regards to women and equality in the church, a topic that I am wholeheartedly devoted to. (That book  can be found HERE)

Tosca and I hit it off and stayed loosely in touch through social media and email. We sent each other copies of our books. I read her novel, Havah, a fascinating story written as a memoir by Eve. Yes, Eve, as in Adam and Eve. Tosca has written other novels and is a damn good story teller. I don’t read many novels and I have not read any Christian novels since The Shack. It’s just not a genre that resonates with me. (I am being wayyy diplomatic … )

But I like Tosca, and I like her storytelling voice. So when she contacted me about helping out with her new book,The Legend of Sheba,  I was all in, even though it’s a Christian novel, and well, you know how I feel about Christian novels.

Tosca-Lee-Sheba-Feature-492x376

Learn more about Tosca at www.toscalee.com

I hoped I would like her book because I like Tosca. God knows I am not very good at faking liking a book when I really don’t. And that can get awkward when you like the person, but not what they wrote.  Years ago my friend Bill Dahl, who has reviewed a ton of books, told me he only posts reviews of books he likes, I thought yeah, I like that. I’ll adopt that as my guideline, too. This doesn’t mean if I haven’t posted a review that I didn’t like your book (if you are a writer who sent me a copy). It just means that every review I post, I stand by.

That’s what I thought Tosca was asking of me : to write a blog review about her book.

But what she was really asking was if I would endorse her book.  I was like, Whoa! In the world of writing, asking someone to endorse your book means you are asking them to loan you their name and reputation and write something positive  that can go somewhere on their book for all the reading world to see. I am a person who pays attention to endorsements. When I browse a book, I look at who has endorsed it and what they have to say about it. Endorsements matter to me as a reader … and as a writer. I contacted a number of people to lend me their reputations when my own book was needing endorsements to boost it’s credibility. Some people readily said yes. Some said no, and quite a few never even responded. That’s the gig, that’s the way it goes in the publishing world.

I’ve endorsed a number of books over the years. Just about every author has been someone I know or had strong social connections to. I am always honored to be invited to lend my I’m-Not-Famous name to their endorsement list. One of these days I will blog a complete list of the handful of books I have endorsed and why.

So I read Tosca’s Sheba hoping, hoping, HOPING I would really and truly like it (cuz’ I like her, remember?) and damn, not only did I like it, I savored it like a French chocolate pastry. She created a compelling portrait of this ancient queen, bringing her to life as more riot grrrl than princess in peril. I was more than happy to endorse her book as her interpretation made me want to hang out and get drunk with Sheba and then get tattoos. (and also with Tosca… ya hear me Tosca?! Come out to Portland and let’s hang!)

The Queen of Sheba is a strong read, steady-paced read. Tosca is herself the QUEEN of historical details and is like a time-machine engineer. She takes you there in the story, and God knows I adore travelling.

blurb

My endorsement

I have two copies of Sheba on my shelf. One is my personal copy, and the other is an advanced copy meant for reviewers. I am going to give away my advanced copy to a lucky reader who leaves a comment.

If you like novels, especially historical ones, get Tosca Lee on your radar.  She is a strong, sensual writer who hooks and holds you with her mesmerizing-badass-storytelling voice.

So leave a comment up and maybe you’ll win the review copy. Winner announced in the comments early next week.

Teaser :::::  ART SERIES coming at ya!

 

 

Killing My Inner Critic {with kindness}

friends“Have you ever prayed for your inner critic?” asked my dear friend Jane. We were sitting in a tree house her husband Tony had built. Not a tree-fort type tree house. But a Tree House, with windows and electricity and an upstairs and downstairs. We were in the upstairs part, built like a small sun porch with evergreen branches pressed against the window panes. A truly serene place and in this place my soul sister Jane had listened to me reveal the pounding I had been taking when it came to my writing. My inner critic had been on a rampage.

Who are you to think you have anything to say? You aren’t educated. You’re writing is too loose. Nobody cares if you write or not. Stop wasting your time. Kill your blog.

I revealed all to Jane who was more than just a friend, but also a sage-woman in my life.

“What if we prayed for your inner critic right now?” asked Jane in her gentle Jane-ness that endears everyone who comes in contact with her.  “Your inner critic is, after all… You. She is a part of you and that part of you needs healing. Why don’t we lay hands on her and pray?”

With our heads bowed down  and Jane’s hands covering my clasped palms, we prayed one after the other for my inner critic who is Me. I felt a river of freedom open up  in the hidden world within. Something had shifted it seemed.

Time would tell, as she always does.

Writers have many stories of contending with their inner critic. I heard of one writer who negotiates with her critic to wait ’til she’s finished up then she can rip into her writing.   Another  writer I met at a conference said she had written a break-up letter to her inner critic and that it really worked. And then there was the writer  who  confessed to murder. “I strangled him dead. Now I write in peace.”

I thought about these different methods for dealing with my inner critic : negotiate? write a letter? murder?

Who ever heard of praying for their inner critic? Leave it to wise, kind-hearted Jane to offer such loving guidance.

Time did tell. It worked. 

Within weeks my writing was flowing. The familiar critical voice was gone. There was silence … much of the time just quietness from the sidelines …  as I got on with the craft of writing one carved paragraph at a time. And then, she spoke again, but this time without unkindliness.

I really like how you’ve used this metaphor. What a great picture to convey that feeling.Your writing is getting stronger. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

I began to write and blog with greater boldness and strength. Self-censoring began to fade out. My inner critic had become my inner coach and because of this,  I began to write with feverish liberty.

Within three years of that tree house prayer time, I published one book and began to write another. Once my inner writing critic became my inner writing coach, it was if I became a new writer. I was born again. My writing bones flourished as my writing voice soared. 

It seems to me that there were three things that helped transform my inner writing critic to my writing partner:

  • Recognizing that my inner critic is not some disembodied voice out to get me, but she is Me, the fearful, anxious part of me who is scared of failure, rejection, abandonment, and worst of all for writers, a reader’s indifference.  Realizing who my inner critic was made it possible to reach in and love her.
  • Saying it out loud to a trustworthy, non-judgmental person.  Confession is good for the soul, and telling on my inner critic shined the light on a dark corner of my psyche. Reconciling this shadowy part of me meant confronting her … but with kindness rather than banishment!
  • Reconciling with my inner critic by embracing her and affirming her. I need her in my life. She is my hidden self, my inner creative who helps shape my writings. She’s meant well, but all that criticism coming from a place of fear and anxiety was not helpful at all. It tore me down. Building her up displaced criticism and turned her into my ally. My inner self and my outer self are more wholehearted when they (we!) get along.

If I could give new writers one piece of advice it would be this: Make friends with your critic. Don’t ignore them, punish them or threaten them. Instead, kill them with lots and lots of kindness. Your writing will flourish with greater boldness and fluidity without the weight of criticism being heaped upon your writing soul. Make friends with your critic. And Write On.

What about you? Have you identified your inner critic? What does he/she rail on you about? Confess it in the comments!  :)

 

How Cancer Failed to Make me a Super Mom

me and jeremy

Jeremy and I last month at the Caring Cabin, an amazing getaway sponsored by the Children’s Cancer Association here in Oregon.

“No matter what we hear today,” I said to my husband as we prepared for the appointment that would reveal what stage our teen son’s cancer was at, “we have to be like a rock. We cannot fall apart in front of Jeremy no matter how hard the news might be.” With resolve to remain stoic, we drove our son to the hospital for what would prove to be one of the hardest conversations of our entire lives.

Stage 4b. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Seven different chemo drugs. Radiation. Compromised immune system. Potential side effects. Potential complications. Blood infections… and on and on …

We did remain stoic. We did not flinch. Jerry and I sat there as if we were in a conference discussing the terms of buying a car. I had flipped the switch, a coping mechanism I developed many years ago when facing down stressful, emotionally charged events. I can almost always flip the switch to Numb Mode. I was thankful that this day, this moment, my switch was in working order.

Jeremy, our son, started off in his own place of stoicism. But as the difficult conversation progressed, all entirely focused on his body, his health, his well-being, he became more and more agitated. I recognized he was coming close to losing it, and not wanting my son to become overwhelmed by such difficult information, nor lose his composure in front of new doctors who were strangers to us, I finally held up my hand in the universal stop gesture. “I think we need to end here. It’s a lot to take in.”

That was a good mom moment. I did right by my son as we navigated him home. He did lose his composure in the safety of our car.  Jerry and I remained steadfast in our calmness. I held back tears as Jeremy raged at the hard hand of cards he had been dealt. My own falling-apart’ness came later where my son could not see or hear my anguish.  Another good mom move.

But not all my moves during our sojourn in CancerLand have been as noteworthy. I have failed many times at being the mom-on-task caregiver as the lead nurturer of my son’s care. Like the time Jeremy ran out of a critical medication. We had just been to the clinic the day before and I had completely forgotten to get a prescription. This particular med requires a paper script to be filled at the pharmacy. As Jeremy informed me of this, I grimaced. I had planned my day out, but now with the urgency of going back to the clinic, getting the script, running it to the pharmacy and getting him that much-needed-med before his next dose, ugh … my face scrunched up with the ugh-ness of it all. And he saw it, and it rained shame down on him that his medical need was an inconvenience to me.  That he had become an inconvenience.

I apologized. I reassured him. I spoke of my undying commitment to care for him no matter what and No, he is never ever never ever NEVER EVER an inconvenience “for I am your mom and it is my honor to help you and care for you and be alongside you to help you move towards wellness.”

Another time I ranted to him about an irritation that had happened at work. Jeremy and I developed a strong bond during his treatments, and in that bond I sometimes misplaced my judgment by speaking with him as if he were a friend rather than my ill teen son who is just trying to get through another day of feeling crappy. “Mom, uh… mom,” he would sometimes stammer ever-so-politely, “Can we not talk about this right now?” I flushed with embarrassment more than once as I carelessly crossed boundaries. The stress and isolation of this serious illness affected my mothering limits more times than I’d like to remember.

It became clear to me that with a disease like cancer come weird ideas like  how to be positive all the time and saintly and noble and Hallmark-card-good-all-day-and-night-long. My friend, writer and blogger (and cancer survivor)  Jo Hilder, tells  in her book, Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner, how expecting positivity all the time is like telling a hungry person to never ask for something to eat.

When the person with cancer never talks about the scary parts and is never honest about their fear of pain or death, the only good thing which results is the people around the person with cancer don’t have to be inconvenienced with an awkward conversation, (or) deal with their own fear of cancer…

It was a very weird tension of trying to be the Good  Upbeat Mom all the time.  And though my son nor anyone else put this expectation on me – in fact, quite the opposite – I had  put a huge pressure on myself to Be Super Mom and Super Positive all the Super Effin’ time.

But I never did find my damn cape and the Super powers that come with it.

I wish I had a worthy Lifetime movie of the week story of how cancer transformed me into a better version of myself. Nope. Cancer tested my resolve, yes, and the crisis of a sick child created pressures that I sometimes handled with grace and sometimes did not. Like the time I lost my temper with my 20-year old daughter and began railing on her while my chemo-sick son laid on the sofa…”Please stop, Mom,” he moaned. “I don’t need this.” And of course I stopped … and of course I felt horrible for bickering with my daughter in front of my ailing boy. Another ugh’ish moment.

This is the real stuff of our CancerLand experience. I did a lot right, a whole lot of right, yet I will
always wish that I had done EVERYTHING right. But I’m human, and the crisis of cancer did not suddenly transform me into Super Mom or Super Human or Super anything except maybe super worried … I worried about everything with Jeremy, every little thing, and I still do as he is still recovering from the side effects of the treatments that saved his life.

from Somee Cards

from Somee Cards

Cancer made no saint of me. The crisis, though, made me more aware than ever of how the human experience is full of paradox and contradictions and highs and lows. I wish I had a narrative, a take-away of the valuable life lessons me and my family absorbed from CancerLand. In the end, I have my cancer-free boy (YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!) and a bit more insight of how I am who I am, foibles and all, in the face of extraordinary difficulty.

So what about you? When have you failed when you wanted to be Super You in the face of crisis? I’d love to hear your story and know I’m in good company!

Courage to Fail

courage

I tried hard not to feel self-conscious as a small audience gathered to watch me as I struggled with the pallet mover, also known as a Blue Giant. I pivoted this way and that way, moving ever so cautiously in fear of hitting something or someone and breaking bones. Maneuvering the power equipment was like being a little girl trying to walk a doberman pinscher. I feigned coolness. I got this. I pretended to be indifferent to the half dozen or so of veteran operators watching me struggle.

It was my first week at my new job at the Nabisco factory. I had never worked in manufacturing before. The power equipment required for the job intimidated me. About the only power equipment I knew how to operate was my electric toothbrush. You got this, I kept chanting inside. But I didn’t. I kept missing my mark with the pallet forks. I’d reverse and start  again only to pivot too soon or too late to drive the forks right under the pallet. Finally, my trainer showed mercy and stepped in to show me again how to navigate the equipment. I sighed with relief. The small crowd of coworkers dispersed with words of encouragement, “You’ll get it. Don’t worry. We all had to learn and you will, too.”

Days later I was yet again feeling like I was on display as coworkers observed me handling the Blue Giant. I understood by now that my audience was more interested in my safety than in critiquing my progress. I focused on my pivoting and soared with pride as I got  those forks nice and centered right into the pallet slots where they needed to be. A round of cheers went up as I took an exaggerated bow.

Fail harder.

There have been many opportunities to struggle and fail at my new job. I have been put into a new department where I am back at square one with new training to learn new procedures and yes, new power equipment. It is humbling to be the greenhorn. What helps so much are the coworkers and supervisors who are patient to teach me and correct me so that my skills improve. I am grateful that I work in a place filled with supportive coworkers who look out for one another. It gives me confidence to succeed … and confidence to fail.  I don’t mean fail like hit somebody with a piece of power equipment. That would be a devastating accident. I mean confidence to not get it right. Mistakes are expected. In an atmosphere where inexperienced operators like me are bound to commit errors, it is important to be able to own it and learn from it rather than conceal my struggles with my new job.

I wish relationship struggles were as easy for me to admit. I had hoped that by this stage of life — I’ll be fifty next month! — that I would have the keys to successful relationships settled in my pocket. But I don’t. I still agonize over relational mishaps and misunderstandings and outright failures. I want every relationship in my life to be simple and harmonious. There are some relationships that feel like a piece of power equipment that I’m never gonna get right. I have to walk away. Never easy for me. Walking away and letting go feel like failure. I have failed. I Am the Failure, even if friendship with the other person has become unhealthy or toxic in some way. I will internalize the collapsed relationship as proof that I suck at being a good  friend. 

Like this one friend I used to spend time with years and years ago. We were getting to know each other and developing a real friendship, one I thought for sure would go the distance. But then it got wonky, and I couldn’t sort out how it got wonky or what made it wonky. I figured I was the wonky one. We never really talked about the falling apart of the friendship. It just disintegrated and with that failed friendship came feelings of shame and blame. The struggle to be human is not my favorite. I’d rather do away with all the wonky parts.

The upside in these uncomfortable experiences  is revealing it to  friends who are deep in my life.  Just the other day I had a flood of shame for a failed friendship. It took talking to a close friend who knows me and how I’m wired to help me remember that it’s ok to struggle and feel bad. It’s ok that this friendship didn’t work out. It’s ok to fail.  My friend cheered me on to maneuver  my thoughts towards acceptance of what I was feeling rather than beat myself up. 

Courage begets courage. Vulnerability inspires openness. Transparency is Healing. 

I am always learning about struggle and relationships. I don’t work so hard anymore on figuring everything out. Either we get along or we don’t. Either there is mutual respect or there’s not. I have gotten better at recognizing early on whether or not we’re clicking and whether or not to stay the course with the relationships around me. Some will develop. Some will not. Some will die and some flourish. And through each relational experience I am learning more about myself and what it is to be human, and what it is to struggle.

The Fail Harder sign at the offices of Wieden & Kennedy is made up of more than 100,000 push pins.

In the offices of famed advertising firm, Wieden and Kennedy,  they have a large sign that says Fail Harder.  I read somewhere than Dan Wieden tells people to make mistakes. Go ahead. Mistakes are the journey to success. We learn in the school of failure.

It takes courage to fail. The word courage, I just learned, originally meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” I practice courage every time I own my struggles, mistakes and failures. Admitting that I am intimidated by relationships (and power equipment!) gives opportunity for others to breath needed courage upon me. Telling on myself by revealing my struggles takes courage for me. When others are open about their struggles, it helps me be open, too.  Courage begets courage. Vulnerability inspires openness. Transparency is Healing.

So I’m learning new equipment at work. I have to drive a trough mover, a piece of equipment that used a spinning handle as a steering wheel. Oh, good times, let me tell you. But I’m learning. I’m getting it. I bump into walls and bang troughs against other troughs. Sometimes the trough gets stuck on the trough mover fork and I have to get someone to help me. And they do. And I learn and  get back to it, learning one more thing through failure as I keep at it.Relationship mishaps are much more complex than power equipment (duh!). I’m grateful that I have good people around me to coach me and help me keep perspective as I keep learning and growing about friendship, Blue Giants and the art of failure.

* * * * *

WINNER WINNER WINNER !!!

The winner of a copy of The Black Swan Effect from last week’s blogpost is reader Valerie Liptak. Congratz Valerie!!