I learned it from Lindi, my wife. We were walking. Talking. It seems like we used to walk and talk more often as we made plans for our life together. Short and long term goals. Ideas. Musings. Fears. Dreams. One day, while talking about how hard it is to do what we really want, to be who we really are, she said,
“Sometimes my life gets in the way of my life.”
Yeah. No kidding. Those ten words have stayed with me. They’ve inspired me. Haunted me. Reminded me.
I’m a writer; a published author. I write. Writing is the one place I go alone to face myself, my fears, my joys, my desire for revenge and for healing. Writing is dangerous. Words can hurt, especially as I write about those closest to me (my lovers, my enemies, my family, my friends, myself), usually disguised (thinly or thickly, though I try to avoid “ly” words) in my characters. Writing is catharsis. It is cleansing like no soap ever; like Dr. Bronner’s Certified Fair Trade, 18-in-1, Hemp Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap… times 10. You want to wake up fast? Try getting Dr. Bronner’s in your eyes or in a tiny paper cut on your finger or don’t rinse it quickly enough from your body’s most – ahem – sensitive places. In that moment your entire focus hones in on washing Dr. Bronner away as fast as possible. And you know in that moment just how clean you are. Because you feel it in the lingering tingle. When Dr. Bronner has a firm grip, you direct your full attention to him. Nothing else matters but Dr. Bronner. When the writing is flowing like blood onto paper, there is nothing… nothing I enjoy more. In that moment, nothing else matters. I am most alive in that moment. Writing well demands that I pay that kind of attention; in ways I do not in other, less important, areas of my life.
Writing is thought. Writing is contemplation. Writing is translating those thoughts and contemplations into words on a laptop. Writing is the closest I get to fully living – outside of making love and living fully as I do with very few people this time through life. Writing is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Breath. Blood (sometimes spilled). Death. Life. Writing is drama and trauma and my trail out from the wilderness.
And writing is second or third or fifth on my list of priorities. Dammit. Why? If writing is all this, why does it slip to fourth like California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes? Because life is also my family, caring for my grandchildren, preparing food, washing dishes, reading, my work with Coming to the Table, speaking and teaching at corporate events, universities, conferences and book fairs, publicizing and marketing my books and seeking opportunities to speak about trauma and healing and becoming our best selves, our best companies, our best communities, our best nation. Life is devoting time to having fun with friends, and taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and more. Always more. And all of it matters.
We all juggle our priorities. We aim for that perfect balance in creating the Life we desire. And “sometimes my life gets in the way of my life.”
When I first learned (around April, I think) from my friend and fellow author Andi Cumbo-Floyd about the Writer’s Retreat she was planning for July 18-20 at God’s Whisper Farm, her home on ten acres with goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and hummingbirds in rural Virginia, I opened the file on my laptop where I keep track of when, for how long, and how many words, I write. I stared at the screen, shook my head, and sighed. The last words I had written on a book manuscript were written ten months earlier, on June 22, 2013. Writing is my priority? Oh, please.
I registered for the retreat. I flew all day last Thursday from Oregon to Virginia. I rented a car. I picked up my friend and fellow writer Sha Jackson and we drove to God’s Whisper Farm to join Andi and ten other writers for a weekend of writing exercises, workshops, inspiration, and re-commitment to our writing.
I committed to myself and to my fellow writers to write 500 words per day until the end of summer. Then I will increase my commitment to 1,000 words per day. I’ll write 4-5 days per week. Yesterday was my first day home. I wrote 1,213 words before I did anything else. These 837 words, also written upon rising from Lindi’s and my bed, represent today’s writing. I have more stories to share, more books to write. I’m a writer.
I expect my life will still get in the way of my life. When it does, and when I pay attention, I’ll do something like fly to Virginia for a weekend to find my trail back home from the wilderness.
(You can see more photos from the retreat here)
So true. Seems I can never find time to write. I love the analogy to Dr. Bronners. That's some powerful soap.
My desire to make change in the world has always taken priority. It's very hard for me to pace myself, to take time for myself, when there is so much to do. I feel most alive when I am doing consciousness-raising, community organizing, and creating products (like the virtual museum) that are beautiful, stimulating, provocative. I feel most bored when I have to focus on taking care of my body and my wellness, but at my age, this needs to be a real priority – tho it feels like it's getting in the way of my real life. And yet I know, intellectually, that my body IS my life and without its health, I won't be able to do what I love. But I forget that when I'm up late into the night answering email or building an exhibit. So…Tom, I hope you can keep to the trail, write a lot, and find the balance you need in your life. Hope I can too. Thanks for the reminder.
How do you speak about Trauma without getting caught up in the emotions of it yourself?
Good question, Sharon. For me, it's been a matter of study and focus. I've taken STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience) training at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. I just completed qualifying as a STAR Practitioner. I made it a point to learn about trauma and how it impacts me and others and do my best to apply what I've learned. I don't always succeed in not getting "caught up in the emotions of it", but I do much better than before I made understanding trauma one of the key focuses of my life. I recommend "The Little Book of Trauma Healing" by Carolyn Yoder as a good place to begin.
Do you get paid for your consultative work? Have you worked with groups on Trauma? It seems like there is so much trauma in society radiating out from the home with intimate partner violence, incest, rape etc. I was involved in organizing Take back the Night rallies in Albuquerque and I saw that I was giving some people a place where they could publicly talk about their trauma related to sexual violence in that case.