Guest Post: The Gift of Giving Up

26 Oct

Abby Sher

I am so thrilled and honored to have a guest post this week from one of my favorite authors, Abby Sher.  Her beautiful memoir, Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things), is one of my all-time favorite books, and is so moving that it made me cry…in Starbucks….twice!  It recently came out in paperback, and I highly recommend it!  In the meantime, please check out her guest blog about The Gift of Giving Up…
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“The Gift of Giving Up” by Abby Sher

It’s noon, and here is a list of what I will not be getting done any time soon:

*finishing the first draft of my next book. Last Friday, I handed in four chapters and an outline that makes me tremble with fear and possibility. I don’t know if I love it or hate it. Either way, it’s out of my hands for the time being.

*signing up for that study to help epileptics. Also volunteering to write and do yoga in prisons. And the thousand other promises I’ve made to cook and decorate and be there for someone beside myself.

*did I mention the non-fiction proposal that I was sure I’d sell before the end of the summer? The movie I was writing and the cabaret that I was set to host? The pen-pal program and the pitches for new talks on mental illness that I swore would be refined and spellchecked by July? Those are going to sit in the pickle jar for the next few months too.

*reading the rest of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Yes, I love it and it’s a classic and I am learning so much from this young Mick as she discovers Beethoven and bigotry in the same innocent breath, but I promised to read two other manuscripts and am tearing through a hypnobirthing book as zenically and efficiently as possible. While I’m at it, I’m crossing off From Beirut to Lebanon, which is on my must-read list every year, especially after the Jewish holidays.

*understanding the Middle East crisis. Or Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, Sudan, did someone say Sinn Fein is still working for a new Ireland? I am just catching up to Rutgers University, and this is definitely something I need to work on. I will commit to reading a piece of the newspaper at least four times a week, but grasping what I’m ingesting is an entirely different command.

I love making lists. They are flat, concrete itemizations of the gazillion coulds woulds shoulds flurrying inside my brain. I make them each day, each week, each month, the intentions getting bigger and more unrealistic as I stream down the page. Every task has to have a specific and undeniable goal. A hungry mouth or brain to be fed. Or so I thought…

For the Jewish New Year, I had a dear friend over. Instead of the traditional apples and honey we had some leftover couscous and lit sage to snuff out each other’s fears and regrets. Then we sat on the couch and dictated to each other our ten New Year’s Resolutions. Halfway through mine, I could smell my own hot breath, hear the click of my jaw as I bit off new must-do’s for my career and ego.

“They’re pretty…work-related, huh?” I asked as we both stared at my notebook.

“Well…yeah.” My friend had listed true personal aspirations for herself. Taking the time to express love fully. Keeping in touch with her family better. Being true to her word. Meanwhile, I was focusing on that unfinished novel, a bestseller list and a mandatory epiphany. Towards the bottom of the page I’d added “enjoy birth.”

Yes, I am due to give birth to my second child in a week and a half. A fact that clearly didn’t fit on my goal list and yet is the motivation and meaning behind it all. I love being a mother so much that I’ve rarely if ever been able to write about it. And I know selfishly that in many ways I jumped on the chance to get pregnant again while my daughter is still in diapers because her birth and the ensuing months were the most peaceful, chaotic, indefinable moments of my life. There is no room on a split-up rag to write an award-winning sonnet nor do I have the brain space to find out what I have to do next besides eatpoopsleepeatpoopsleep, repeat.

Maybe this is an unfair burden to put on my children. Why don’t you hold on to Mama’s self-image for a few years while she wipes your butt and tries to invest fully in this moment? I certainly don’t want to hold them responsible for my actions as a writer, performer, yogi, or human being. What I hope is that by letting go of who or what I am supposed to be, I can honestly spend more time as me.

A few weeks ago, while my husband and I were sorting through those rubber tubs of onesies in the basement, I pulled out my milk crate full of old journals. Ideas and stories and shows that I’ve yet to write in full but they are brilliant and will change the fate of the world and bring peace to Nepal or at least Brooklyn. Lists and plans for what I need to do next to be provocative and raw and worthwhile as a creative human being.

I looked at each cover, dusted off each spine, and one by one, I threw those journals away.

Please post a comment if this entry resonates with you. What are your thoughts on discarding old goals? Is giving up necessarily bad? If you had just today left, what would you need to get done?

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3 Responses to “Guest Post: The Gift of Giving Up”

  1. Maria Francesconi October 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    Abby!!!
    Great to see you, and how great to get this update from you via
    writeous chicks… I’m so eager to get to an event.. Life is so full!!!
    So when the time is right, I will be there!!!
    Great blog and this idea has been everywhere today.. So really timely!!!
    love and gratitude!!!!

  2. Joanna October 26, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    I loved this post – resonated with it so much. We are each so much more, so much bigger, so much more remarkable than our lists of what we have done or what we hope to do. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Jennifer Garam November 10, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks for the wonderful post Abby! Some things I am letting go of… I continuously need to return to letting go of how I think my life *should* look/be, in favor of embracing what it *is*. And also letting go of the idea that at some, definite, concrete moment in the future, everything will all come together and be figured out. Perfectly. Seamlessly. For good. Ad infinitim. And instead, accept and embrace living in the messy, gray, in-between, and know that there will always be things that need to be worked on, and that’s OK. I also have piles of journals filled with ideas. I’m not ready to throw them all away, but your post inspired me to let go of some that are weighing me down, and take some out of their dusty corners and *do* them.

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