What is honest? FEAR: I’m scared $#!+less, every stinking day.
So when, thanks to blogging buddy, Blogger Idol 2013, THE Lois Alter Mark, whom I intend to meet IRL in 2014, I discovered the book, “Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave,”
I knew immediately, it was a book I needed to read. Actually, it was a book I could write after the last two years on my own quest to become brave, except clearly I’m not quite there yet.
Unlike warm, funny author, Patty Chang Anker, who is Chinese-American, raised by Chinese immigrant parents, with all the expectations that entails, I didn't know I was smart until later in life. What I did know was that I was a good singer. But when I became a single mother at 20, the singing no longer mattered, and it sure as hell wasn't enough when I was sure I wasn't smart enough or capable enough and didn't have enough money to be a good mother--to not screw up my child!
I had already failed everyone. I'd had a child alone. I wasn't about to fail again, but I couldn't reach out or ask for help. And so I was completely alone, to the point of being suicidal.
Life was hard. Life was a state of constant fear. And I began to believe that would be my reality forever. Even after I married, it still proved our reality, because together we seemed to suck the joy out of everything. Life was so hard as we worked to recover from our respective single parenting and divorce, we knew only hard and we kept living it. I see it in our daughters still sometimes, which is what makes me ache to prove to them, to prove to my husband that life can be joy-filled. Not easy necessarily, but that a time will come when we can relax and ENJOY all our hard work. Maybe just a little?
That's been our story: Hard. Work. Plodding. It's what has defined us. But it hasn't served us, and it sure as hell hasn't made us rich--the harder we work, the more we seem to struggle. Whatever we've each "done wrong" which determined that we don't deserve joy and happiness is what we've allowed to define us. That's been our story. Single mother, divorced father, job losers, failed restaurateurs.... ENOUGH! I think this is the year that we will choose how we define ourselves. At least I intend to!
Patty has a chapter in her book about surfing the Great Lakes. I don't think it's an accident that it was my hometown, St. Joseph, where she took such a plunge. In winter! She says, "Michigan folks must be made of heartier stuff than New Yorkers." While I don't know about that, I do know we are hearty, indeed. We take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. We're right smack in the middle of one of the longest, coldest winters in decades. If I could see that lake through the blizzard we’re currently weathering, I wouldn’t be able to imagine for a moment surfing it. But as Erica said from Third Coast Surf Shop, where Patty & Patrick rented their surfboard, "I'm from here, I can surf in the summer."
Patty asked me on Facebook whether I really live in St. Joseph. I proudly display a picture by Mark Parren of our little red-roofed light house as one of my cover photos. But Patty probably didn't recognize it because it was likely encased in a feet-, not inches-, thick sarcophagus of glacial ice at that time of year. So, yeah. I've been on a quest to overcome my fear of success as well as my fear of failure over the last two years, but I don't feel the need to surf Lake Michigan in winter to prove it. I sure as hell, however, want to meet the woman who did and lived to write about it!
Patty quotes her surfing coach, Patrick, as saying, “Strength and courage has always been there, you're just uncovering it in different ways."
I think strength and courage can hide behind hard work. Taking a licking and perseverance doesn't equate to happiness and fulfillment. And in 2013 it barely equated to food on the table. I make an effort to regularly be positive, or I keep my fingers to myself. There’s enough negativity among social media outlets. But that’s the truth. As wonderful as it was in many ways for me personally, 2013 was our scariest year yet financially.
I have to admit #SomeNerve has made me feel a little feisty, a little defensive perhaps about my choices over the last two years. Patty describes Barry's near-death experience on a plane. This makes me think of our near death financially, which has spurred in me an "ef-it" attitude about what I choose to do to contribute to my family. I simply can't abide the idea of waiting tables or tending bar or being someone's administrative assistant. Been there, done all those things.
Maybe some would say I've had a responsibility to do those things to bring in cash--that I should have done whatever it took to pay the bills, but my husband was already doing that. We can't both be miserable and unfulfilled and disbelieving, what then would that do to our son? And maybe I can have an influence on his actions and desire toward living a fulfilled life rather than just plodding through—he has taken up photography, and I think I might have inspired that just a little. And I've felt a deep calling to do something very different from what I’ve done that didn’t fulfill me in the past.
Fear of death is a big one for many people, but I have longevity in my genes with a grandpa who lived to be 100 years old. Patty’s book has inspired me to want to work harder not to screw that up. And if I have half my life left to look forward to, I want to make the most of it, and I want to help influence the happiness of others. The saying, Life is Too Short...not to grab every moment. Yet, while we're raising kids, we spend many of those years in a kind of standby mode. We hover and we put all our energy into our children, and often very little into ourselves.
When I look back on my life, much like someone having a near death experience might, I can see that all the pieces have come together in this moment. I can pull together all my life experience to have an impact on others, and that's what I want to do with the second half of my life. That's the beauty of growing older: Perspective. Hindsight. That's what I hope to take advantage of, and what I’ve been diligently self-teaching over the last two years.
I said to Patty the other night as we were Facebook chatting, that overcoming fear is the path I've been on for the last two years, and her book articulates it so beautifully. Wouldn't it be wonderful to help people to be brave well before they reach midlife? Why does it take so many of us so long? I haven't answered that question yet. But I keep trying. We allow so many other things to define us, I suppose, maybe this is when we finally begin to seek to define ourselves. But why the hell can't we be nurtured and encouraged to do that all our lives? Why isn't happiness and fulfillment always reason enough to do or to choose something?
Maybe it's because I've already been a mom for 27 years by the end of this month, but I've stood by long enough. Now I wish to put as much energy into raising myself and others up as I have and will continue to spend, raising my kids. And just as my husband continues to plod and to work, I will continue to seek that summit. Which of us will get there first? I hope it's me, so I can show him the light.
Previously West Coast Posse was largely directed at women. You’ll note that I’m kind of in the middle of an overhaul here, and I've seen so many men, my own husband included, defeated and in pain over the last several years of economic uncertainty and job loss, that I feel compelled to bring everyone with me along on this glorious ride of self-discovery & fulfillment. And I believe deeply that my grandfather's influence, his way of embracing people and life and food and gathering and celebrating every moment, can be key in seeing that to fruition. I hope you’ll see evidence of that as my “GANE Empowered Wellness: GANE Possible” section develops. That will be my #SomeNerve Challenge, by the way: finishing that book (don’t worry, Bluebirds is still developing its wings), living it, promoting it, speaking about it, fully embracing the philosophy of MORE, doing cooking demonstrations (some together!) and teaching others to embrace MORE in 2014. And I don’t think it’s an accident that my husband loved feeding people when we owned our restaurant—loved feeding the guys in the firehouse—or that we’ve since learned to do it in ways that help us maintain wellness, despite the stress we’ve been under.
The world needs MORE of us to feel happy and fulfilled--and you matter! Yes, I'm talking to you! If my path, if our path to get there can influence yours in a positive way, even when it’s bumpy, even when it’s scary, even when a positive attitude is at its most difficult to reach, I hope you'll hold on tight and come along for the ride.
This time next year, when I’m creeping up on 49, I know the hindsight will be worth it!
This is posted as part of a Blog Hop over at Midlife Boulevard. Our topic was: There's Nothing Wrong with Aging.