Tag Archives: Anne Lamott

Where The Wild Things Are

10 Dec

“You were once wild here.  Don’t let them tame you.” -Isadora Duncan

Last week, a yoga teacher read this quote at the end of class.  And it hit me as something that is very, very true.  It reminded me of my own wildness, that I sometimes allow myself to feel and occasionally allow myself to act on and more often feel the pressure to suppress.  And it occurred to me that society does not like wildness.  It doesn’t trust wildness, and it certainly does not value or encourage wildness.

A few days later, I attended a symposium about gender parity in theatre, and playwright Tina Howe spoke about being very conscious that as a woman, when she is frisky or confrontational or wild in her writing, when she writes about ideas that society does not embrace and does not want to hear, she gets her wrists slapped (in particular, by the critics).  Which seems to be a tactic for taming.

I kept thinking about this quote, about how I feel wild inside and do not ever want to be tamed, to follow the path I’m supposed to follow or do the things I should do or want the things I’m told to want.  To feel neat, quiet feelings and never be emotionally messy and loud, and if I am, to quiet it down and clean it up fast, and if that doesn’t work then just hide it so no one can see.  To only say the things that are nice and acceptable and polite, and stuff down everything else.

Then I tweeted this quote which led to a conversation with several people on Twitter about times in our lives when we were wild.  And this got me thinking about what it means to be wild, and what the costs are of letting ourselves be tamed.

These are some times in my life I was wild:

* The night before my French final sophomore year of high school, I went to the local dive bar and got drunk on Sex on the Beaches.  I threw up that morning before I went to school and was on the verge of throwing up through the whole exam.  But I think I got an A anyway.

* The summer after my junior year, I told my Mom I was staying at my friend’s house and instead we went to Montauk with the guys we were seeing.  We sped down Old Montauk Highway in the pitch black night with the windows down and the sunroof open blasting “Ultraviolet” by U2 and my stomach did flip-flops like I was on a roller coaster.

* Senior year I cut Honors Physics class and went to the beach with two of my best friends in a red 1973 Alfa Romeo convertible.

* The same month, a group of friends including a guy I had a crush on pulled up in front of my house one night, and my crush asked me to dance in the middle of the street as “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and The Beaters played on his car radio, and I said Yes.

* Also that month, I quit my job at the tanning salon/juice bar/coffee house where I worked so I could go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because I wasn’t able to get my shift covered.  It was June of my senior year of high school, and a good month for wildness.

* When I was 19 I turned down an internship doing PR for garden supplies, and I spontaneously drove to Cape Cod in my 1972 BMW 2002 to live near the beach with my college roommate.

* At 24 I quit a job with a salary and benefits so I could wait tables and be an actress.

 

There were other times when I was wild on the inside, in quieter, less obvious ways that didn’t involve road trips, classic cars, and quitting jobs, but that still feel like some of the boldest, most daring risks I have taken.  Times when…

* I was strong when I didn’t think I could be

* I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me

* I didn’t give a shit about being “nice”

* I spoke up for myself and stood up for myself

* I had unwavering belief in myself

* I followed my heart even when it meant that things would be hard, uncomfortable, painful, or all of the above

* I rejected what I was supposed to do and did what I wanted to do

* I had messy feelings that I did not hide

 

But the boldest and most courageously wild thing I have ever done is write.  And put my thoughts and feelings and experiences and fears and hopes and self down in words.  Even when it scares me.  Writing is deceptively simple, running your pen across paper, clicking keys on your computer.  But it is scary and powerful and wild beyond taming.  As Anne Lamott said, “Tell the truth as you understand it.  If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this.  And it is a revolutionary act — truth is always subversive.”

What does being wild mean to you? Where do you feel the pressure to be tamed? When were you wild on the outside and what times were you wild on the inside?  What are your big & loud and small & quiet acts of wild rebellion?

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Fucked Up Is The New Normal

17 Apr

“Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.” – Rumi (inspiration for the title of Anne Lamott’s new novel Imperfect Birds)

Last week I went to a reading Anne Lamott did for her new novel, Imperfect Birds. I am a hyperactive note-taker and whenever I attend a class or lecture, I spend the whole time furiously scribbling down as much as I can.  But I decided that I was just going to enjoy Anne Lamott’s talk and sit back and soak it in.  That I was going to be present and absorb what I needed to without compulsively trying to capture every detail.  But then she started talking.  She was explaining why she became a “reading girl,” and why people become voracious readers.  “At five-years-old,” she said, “we looked out at our terrifying families and started reading instead.”  This was such a great quote!  But since I wasn’t taking notes, I just kept replaying it in my head so I could remember it.  Which had the effect of taking me out of the present and away from her talk.  So I snuck a scrap of paper out of my bag and scrawled it down so I could go back to paying attention.  But she kept saying more and more wonderful and insightful things, so finally, I had to give in and be the nerdy-furiously-taking-notes-girl.  I took out my notebook and felt such relief at no longer resisting my true nature.  I proceeded to write down some of the things she said, and I wanted to share them here…

Anne said that we are all covering our real selves – we’re all a mess and sad and lonely.  And that you can read something and recognize yourself in it and feel less alone.  The title of her novel is based on the Rumi poem that says, “Each of us has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird,” and she talked about how we’re all imperfect and that’s all we can hope for – to be welcomed in by another imperfect being – but how that can provide immense comfort and be exactly what we need.  She openly admitted to her own flaws and struggles and was so REAL, that even as she talked about her anxieties, it was calming.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I write and read – to connect with others in shared messed-up-ness.  I not-so-secretly suspect that we’re all secretly really messed up (not necessarily in a bad way, just in the normal way that people are messed up simply because we’re human), but no one is copping to it!  Everyone is acting like they all have it all together, which is distressing because then we all look at everyone else’s have-it-all-together facades and feel like we are the only one who doesn’t.  So there’s the pain of not having it together, and then scooped on top of that is the pain/shame of feeling like everyone else does.  But the not-having-it-together pain would be so much more bearable if at least we knew that we were all in it together.  I love reading books or essays or blogs where the writer cops to their vulnerabilities and the places where they are falling apart, and how I feel more understood and less alone as a result.  In my writing, I strive to expose the places where I am vulnerable and falling apart.  And I try to do this in life, too, although that can be a bit more challenging with actual people actually in front of you and staring back at you.

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions About Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes, “…good writing is about telling the truth.”  The truth is strong  and clear and cuts through all the bullshit, and we know it when we read it.  Telling the truth in writing, and reading someone else’s truth, can give us the courage to tell the truth in our lives.  There is such a frenetic energy around hiding the truth, around trying to pretend that you have it all together, around creating and maintaining a facade.  Once you let all this go, the truth can wash in, bringing calm and serenity.  The truth is, there is no Normal; there is no one person who has it all together, who has everything all figured out, who never feels fucked up and sad and lonely.  We’re all imperfect birds living in our imperfect nests.  And the more we can tell the truth about who we really are, the less sad and lonely we will be, and the more we will realize that fucked up is the new normal, and imperfect is absolutely perfect.

Launched New Yoga Blog & Why Shitty First Drafts Are Awesome!

12 Apr

Image credit: Giggle Chick Interactive

I just launched a brand-new yoga blog and I’m so excited about it!  It’s called “NotSoZen YogaJen,” and I will be blogging about being not a perfect, serene, transcendent being, but rather, an imperfect, anxious, Type A person who loves yoga and practices as much as possible – because if I didn’t, things (meaning me) might unravel!  I will also be writing about what I learn from yoga, and sharing tips and resources that have helped me, from a profound yogic teaching to just the right yoga mat bag, to where to find the best (and cheapest!) yoga classes.

In a related story, when I was about one-fourth into writing the introductory post for my new blog, I had a flashback.  Cut to:  October 2007.  I was writing a yoga blog for Health.com and I submitted my first post to the editor.  And she rejected it.  So then I wrote my second first post, and it was published.  As I was writing my post yesterday, I remembered that my real first Health.com post, introducing myself and stating my intention for my blog, was similar to what I was writing now, so I went back and dug it up.  While I didn’t use it in its entirety, I was able to incorporate bits and pieces and even a chunk here and there.

I am currently rereading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, in which she famously coined the phrase “Shitty First Drafts,” and wrote about how important it is to just spew the words out.  You will not initially know what is usable and what is not, and you may not even know where you will be able to use it.  However, your job at that stage of the process is not to judge or criticize, but just to get it all down.  And then you can go back, revise, use a little of this and a little of that – find a home for one paragraph in a short story you are writing, discover a character that would work in a poem, see the beginnings of your novel – and then, let go of the rest. 

It wasn’t exactly the same situation because my old blog post wasn’t a first draft and I’m not saying that it was necessarily shitty, but it had that same junkyard feel, of digging through this pile of words to see what I could salvage.  What I wrote before wasn’t what the editor wanted, and it could have just sat there, rusting and “rejected,” in the back my computer files for eternity.  I feel so gratified and eco-conscious that I was able to rescue it from exile, dust it off, polish it up, and repurpose it, and that all was not lost.  And I even identified some gems that I may be able to recycle in the future for some as-yet-to-be-formed potential piece.

So I want to encourage you to take a walk down to the Junkyard of Writing Past – whether that means scrolling through your computer files or strolling to your closet and unearthing those crumpled notebooks from that dark, dank corner in the back.  See if you can find a short story or beginnings of a novel or an idea for a blog  that you or someone else rejected and exiled, or maybe it just withered away from neglect.  Go on.  Bust it out.  Check it out.  Dust if off and polish it up.  Be nice to it, and be nice to yourself.  And see if you might be able to find a new home for some of those ragtag bits and pieces; take them out of the dark and place them somewhere they can sparkle and shine.

And then check out my new yoga blog! 🙂

Happy writing!

xoxo,

Jen