5.13.14 Work in Progress

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photos by george billard
Just shy of a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Imperfectly Fine about my struggle to find balance in life. I had just had my first session with a health coach and, as I do every summer, I was dreaming of spending more time in the hammock. After nearly 50 sessions with my coach, I'm here to report back. I have a meditation practice now. Taking this course in the city kicked it off and, though I may not sit in meditation every single morning, mostly I do. And it's there for me when I really need it, which is most of the time. I am back to exercising regularly. I ferreted out a gym in my town—it's a fairly ghetto set-up at the local high school, but it's open to residents three mornings a week and it's enabled me to reconnect to weight training. All incipient back issues have totally cleared up. I now see a Chinese acupuncturist every couple of weeks and take herbs twice daily and my herpes outbreaks have nearly vanished.

I'm learning to say no to the things that take me away from what I really want to do. After a couple of publishers expressed interest in a Glutton for Life book, I am finishing up a proposal. (I am elated and terrified in equal measure.) My coach helped me with all of this. She gave me the support, encouragement and love I needed to explore my fears and desires and goals and failures and successes. But the process is not "over." It will never be "over." Just this past week I fell into a giant pit of despair, feeling overwhelmed by my life and everything I still have not managed to accomplish. I am not thinner, richer, more famous or more successful than I was a year ago, and I panicked that I was no happier either. But I am taking deep breaths, sitting in meditation, remembering all the things I have to be grateful for, making plans to do the things I care about most, strategizing for the future and trying to fully inhabit the moment. It's incredibly hard work. But it's also exciting and fun. 

I read something by Annie Lamott yesterday that wrenched me to the core and reverberated through my whole being. I am humbled by her ability to write so completely in her own voice. She expresses her wisdom in a way that is so accessible and friendly, yet so profound. I just love how these words give us permission to be equally at home in our own skins. They came to me at a time when I needed them most and reminded me of what is truly important. I hope they fill you with hope and purpose.
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fine lines

"There's a whole chapter on perfectionism in Bird by Bird, because it is the great enemy of the writer, and of life, our sweet messy beautiful screwed up human lives. It is the voice of the oppressor. It will keep you very scared and restless your entire life if you do not awaken, and fight back, and if you're an artist, it will destroy you.


My pastor said last Sunday that if you don't change directions, you are going to end up where you are headed. Is that okay with you, to end up still desperately trying to achieve more, and to get the world to validate your parking ticket, and to get your possibly dead parents to see how amazing you always were?


This is not going to happen. They are either so dead, like mine are, or they are insatiable, or so relieved that you did not end up divorced--or if you did, then heavily into drugs, like the Woodson girl, or more out of shape than you are, like Esther's son. It's hopeless, and this is the good news.


Putting those tiny pesky parental voices aside, what about, oh, say, the entire rest of the world?


Do you mind even a little that you are still addicted to people-pleasing, and are still putting everyone else's needs and laundry and career ahead of your creative, spiritual life? Giving all your life force away, to "help" and impress. Well, your help is not helpful, and falls short.


Look, I struggle with this. I hate to be criticized. I am just the tiniest bit more sensitive than the average bear. And yet, I'm a writer, so I periodically put my work out there, and sometimes like all writers, I get terrible reviews, so personal in nature that they leave me panting. Even with a Facebook post, like the last one, do you have any idea what it's like to get 500-plus negative attacks, on my character, from truly bizarre strangers.


Really, it's not ideal.


Yet, I get to tell my truth. I get to seek meaning and realization. I get to live fully, wildly, imperfectly. That's why I'm alive. And all I actually have to offer as a writer, is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine. As I've said a hundred times, if people wanted me to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better


Is it okay with you that you blow off your writing, or whatever your creative/spiritual calling, because your priority is to go to the gym or do yoga five days a week? Would you give us one of those days back, to play or study poetry? To have an awakening? Have you asked yourself lately, "How alive am I willing to be?" It's all going very quickly. It's mid-May, for God's sake. Who knew. I thought it was late February.


It's time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion--your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, "Oh, you're writing again? That's nice. Do you have an agent?")


Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen. Repent just means to change direction--and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn't mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.


Here's how to break through the perfectionism: make a LOT of mistakes. Fall on your butt more often. Waste more paper, printing out your shitty first drafts, and maybe send a check to the Sierra Club. Celebrate messes—these are where the goods are. Put something on the calendar that you know you'll be terrible at, like dance lessons, or a meditation retreat, or boot camp. Find a writing partner, who will help you with your work, by reading it for you, and telling you the truth about it, with respect, to help you make it better and better; for whom you will do the same thing. Find someone who wants to steal his or her life back, too. Now; today. One wild and crazy thing: wears shorts out in public if it is hot, even if your legs are milky white or heavy. Go to a poetry slam. Go to open mike, and read the story you wrote about the hilariously god-awful family reunion, with a trusted friend, even though it could be better, and would hurt Uncle Ed's feelings if he read it, which he isn't going to.


Change his name and hair color--he won't even recognize himself.


At work, you begin to fulfill your artistic destiny. Wow! A reviewer may hate your style, or newspapers may neglect you, or 500 people may tell you that you are bitter, delusional and boring.


Let me ask you this: in the big juicy Zorba scheme of things, who fucking cares?"

 
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29 Comments

Great news about a book! Seems like a perfect fit. Anne Lamott is the very best, isn't she? I love her to pieces.
Laurie on May 13, 2014 at 9:37 am — Reply
Oh I love this so much Laura!! thank you for reminding us all xo
stephanie on May 13, 2014 at 9:55 am — Reply
I needed to hear this, right now, at this very moment. Thank you.
Abigail on May 13, 2014 at 10:13 am — Reply
Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today! Very timely. xo
Tanya on May 13, 2014 at 11:54 am — Reply
Ok I actually LOL'd a few times...great post. (and who are these 500 crazy poeple anyway.)
Robert on May 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm — Reply
I read that same post yesterday too! She always makes me feel better about -- and perhaps because of -- my imperfections.
Pauline Gaines on May 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm — Reply
I am speechless and in awe of the blessing that is this post today - for me and I am sure many others. I would write more but I am going to go read this again so bye for now.
Shawn on May 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm — Reply
I LOVE THIS! THANKS SO MUCH, I REALLY NEEDED IT! The last line .... ohhhh yah.. and I love love love your posts! YOU ARE FREAKIN BRILLIANT, GIRL!!! :) (I'm Scott Maddux's auntie Sher from Santa Fe, follower,fan)
sherry stein on May 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm — Reply
lovely.eloquent.thought-provoking. keep going...you are truly an inspiration to all of us...even those of us looking six decades straight in the face.
denise carbonell on May 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm — Reply
OMG I read this from Annie and I thought "Is she inside my head?" How gratifying, yet ridiculous that both you and I suffer from this when we are both such fabulous women, right? Maybe we should be writing partners? xox
Cathy on May 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm — Reply
"you are going to end up where you are headed"--yes. Yes and yes to all of it and xo to you,
janet on May 14, 2014 at 8:44 am — Reply
Thanks for this gift, Laura. You're reaching a lot of folks out there. Know that. God bless!
Susan on May 14, 2014 at 11:03 am — Reply
Thank you for that. You are awesome and I love you with all your beautiful imperfections. xxx Lisa
Lisa Garriss on May 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm — Reply
Sing it, sister! We've been eagerly anticipating the book! D. xo
David on May 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm — Reply
Profound! So relevant and inspiring. You are brave to bare all; thanks for sharing. Good luck with the book!
Jan on May 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm — Reply
I love you all so much. Can't believe you're out there. I feel so lucky. xoxo
laura on May 14, 2014 at 8:11 pm — Reply
This is so relevant, it is scary. Thank you for sharing, you are beautiful and talented, celebrate it. xxoolisa
lisa sabah on May 15, 2014 at 7:45 pm — Reply
YES! Everything I've been telling myself when making my work for the past month even though I can hear that little voice in my head trying to scare me. Thanks for sharing this. And happy living!
Kathryn on May 17, 2014 at 9:46 am — Reply
This is just how I'm feeling. I needed that big boost of encouragement to lock my perfectionism away. Great post, great quote xx
Eli on May 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm — Reply
Very courageous writing through the trenches of personal perspicuity and then at the end I gave out a big HOOT. Wonderful ending! thank you
Charlotte McKeough on May 21, 2014 at 5:36 pm — Reply
I was guided to this page today for a reason. Thank you!
Angela on May 21, 2014 at 8:36 pm — Reply
I am guessing only those who make things can be crictized. Crictizising is easy and coward if not constructive. Your writing is absolutely true. Somehow I have been reflecting on my life after a terrible accident at the age of 21. It tooks me years of meditation to finally kinda get a balance be happy careless and fullfilled I am 29. But we dont know what tomorrow will be made of right? I dont care Im ready for the fight. I have hope . The hard work put into meditation, readings, talks, thoughts, writings pays. It defines who we are, its teachful, meaningful and makes you stronger. Thanks for your writing. Thanks to cup of jo for the reckon !
olithee on May 22, 2014 at 10:01 am — Reply
Always love what you have to say and how boldly you put yourself out there. This is why you get so much love--you give so much! I was really happy to see you post that from Lamott, I've been thinking about it ever since. I think we all need to hear that. xj
Julia on May 22, 2014 at 11:18 am — Reply
Excellent post, and wonderful news about the book. I've been struggling with very similar things recently. Thank you for the inspiring words. xo
Maria on May 25, 2014 at 9:09 am — Reply
Anne's got nothing on you. I love your voice.
Carrie Dinow on June 6, 2014 at 10:00 pm — Reply
Love this ! You write such truth - I need your words to reverberate in my head when miss perfection starts to chime in!
Allison Quast on June 27, 2014 at 9:37 am — Reply
Always thought a great bumper sticker would be " perfection is overrated." Live the wabi sabi life and be real.
Holly on July 1, 2014 at 10:20 pm — Reply
Thanks so much for this lovely passage! I needed it today. And your blog is fantastic. I found some Remodelista pics of your home and was so happy to find out a little more. Juicy lives like yours are very inspiring!
Lari Washburn on July 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm — Reply
How inspiring- THANK YOU! I'm so happy I stumbled upon your site. I needed to hear it all. P.S. This is my first time commenting, even though I am an avid blog reader. I just had to let you know that your voice was heard.
Lovey on October 16, 2014 at 5:12 pm — Reply