At my critique partners’ meeting today we were looking at calendars, discussing potential times for a writers’ retreat next spring. I pointed out the last weekend in June as a potentially bad time for me because of the 4th Street Fantasy convention (only to realize later that I had the date wrong for that).
Okay; but then I said, “but I probably won’t be able to afford to go anyhow.”
One of my CPs said something about my optimism, and it struck me like a whomp upside my head.
Okay; logically, things have been financially strained for me lately (to put it mildly) and it’s true that I missed 4th Street for the past two years for lack of funds, and my lack of job-hunting success over the past five years has left me feeling dreadfully discouraged, and the past can be an indicator for the future.
But it’s also true that June is months away and there is no reason to just assume that things can’t and won’t improve for me in that time. When I stopped to think about it, I was even able to come up with some reason to think things might improve. At the time, I just told my CPs that yes; I needed to work on my attitude.
When I got home I curled up in a little ball in my bed, snuggled with my cat, and worked on my attitude.* I could say that, as human beings go, I curled up in a not-so-small ball, but as one person in the face of the whole wide world, I felt like quite a tiny little ball of a very discouraged, very frightened, very vulnerable person. It was a revelation to me to admit just how discouraged, frightened and vulnerable I felt.
I don’t like to admit that at all, not to myself, not to anyone. I’m an adult. I have education, skills, ambition, a work ethic and some reason to think I have something worthwhile to contribute to the world.
Looking at it from one perspective, the past decade or so seems like a steady downhill decline of my material standing and independence in the world. I went from owning a three-bedroom house to renting a two-bedroom duplex apartment to renting one room in somebody else’s house. I’ve had to pare down my possessions with every move and sell off items I’d like to have kept. I depend on someone else’s good will for the roof over my head and being able to care for my cat. I feel, if not totally helpless, much more helpless than I like.
If I had a choice, I’d choose owning my own house over renting a duplex. I’d choose renting a duplex over renting a room. I’d choose better than I’ve got – if I had a choice. Right? But the choices are never that simple. If the house came only with a job that was making me crazy? If the duplex could be kept only by walling off my awareness of the dreams that make my life meaningful to me? What would I choose then?
Looking at it from another perspective, the past decade or so seems like a blossoming of a stronger, better version of myself. I’ve gone from working day jobs in very structured, sterile environments, with mostly superficial human contact and connection, to working increasingly at freelance projects with interesting people, some of whom have become friends, and to fulfilling a life long dream by writing and now publishing stories and even full length novels. I’ve improved my performance as a musician, my work as an artist, and my understanding of the feelings and drives that make me human.
Considering both these perspectives is only part of the attitude adjustment. The next part is a little trickier: the part where I find a way to embrace the needs represented by both perspectives and make them work together. For this I call upon the lessons learned in yoga classes I was able to take back when I had a little money. The chiefest lesson being not how to balance on my head, or even on one leg, but how to regard myself with compassion.
Compassion helps me look back upon the tiny curled up ball of frightened, needy human being I feel myself to be and embrace the fear. There’s the fear of ending up homeless on the streets talking wildly to myself because I no longer have a computer and word processing software to help me change the wild thoughts into fanciful stories. There’s the fear of losing the good will of friends by becoming too dependent on their generosity and help. There’s the fear of losing my beloved Tigger should he become ill when I have no funds for the vet. Never mind fears for my own health with no insurance. There’s the fear of hunger and increasing indebtedness. There’s a lot of fear, and it’s so much easier to pretend it’s not there than it is to embrace it and hold it in my arms and offer it what comfort there is in my simple acceptance.
Compassion helps me confront the raging frustration of being unable to provide my own needs, being unable to stand alone and independent and beholden to no one. I want to be able to pay my bills. I want my own home, dammit, with enough room for me and my work; I want my own kitchen and my own rules. I want to be able to support the causes I believe in with more than my vote. I want to do what I set out to do without having to adjust my goals to suit my petty human weaknesses.
I want the power. I’m sick of feeling helpless. It’s almost harder for me to embrace that need for power than to embrace the fear. The fear welcomes comfort. That cry for independence and power wants to stand alone. And I have to admit, that’s not going to happen.
However much I can do on my own, I can never do it all. I can’t supply myself with all the benefits of human civilization without the help of the rest of human civilization. Just not going to happen. But the frustration is something I can address, something for which I can find compassion.
And all of it: the fears, the frustrations, the longing for independence and capability and fulfillment – all of it helps me recognize how much I have in common with everybody else on this planet. It all helps me feel less alone. It all helps me feel that same compassion for all us folk who are trying to do the best we can in the face of the whole wide world.
* Some work looks a lot like napping