I am asked often what it is exactly I write about. This is a fantastic question and usually leaves me babbling and stuttering and thoroughly confusing the poor, innocent person who now regrets even asking in the first place. So I usually end with saying, “Well, I have a blog. You can check it out if you want, you know, an actual answer to your question. It’s called It Ain’t All Rainbows.” This statement usually sends the asker into a laughing fit and I realize I probably should have just led with that. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me can usually surmise that I take a bleaker, glass is half empty, “factual” perspective on life.
And it is in that spirit of honesty that I reluctantly bring you in on a little megaton “failure” I am in the middle of living. As a Christmas present, my husband generously gifted me an online writer’s workshop. I chose one on memoir writing, mostly because of the three non-fiction classes offered, it was the one whose description bored me the least and the thought of writing fiction makes my eye twitch and brings on stress dreams. So, memoir, it is!
This was also the first time I was going to willingly present my work to a real, honest to goodness writer who doesn’t know me from Adam and has absolutely no obligation to say nice things about my writing. My first test, if you will, to determine if I have what it takes to be an actual writer or if I should shut it all down and learn how to knit or something to pass my time. (It is so very telling of who I am that I feel as if these are the only two options as possible outcomes for this class. Insert eye roll emoji here.)
I began my class a few weeks ago with all sorts of nerves and trembling and more than a little excitement about how it might go. And then I got slaughtered. I found out just how “good” I actually am. Hint: I’m not actually that good.
(Now, before I receive an onslaught of encouraging and “Hang in there” texts and likes and comments, let me get to my point. And, also, my instructor doesn’t think I am terrible, for the record. She just doesn’t find me as charming and enjoyable as perhaps you do, who chooses to read my writing of your own accord. She doesn’t actually like my voice at all very much. And that’s ok. Not everyone has to think I’m funny or wise or brilliant…but they should.)
Nevertheless her criticism, however accurate or inaccurate, stung. It stung a lot. As in, I spent a solid 18 hours wavering between states of out and out sobbing and quiet weeping on my couch. I can joke about it now but the end of last week was an unpleasant time for the Perkins family. I was grieving what I thought might be the loss of something that I love ddearly. And I allowed myself to grieve, despite how impractical, inconvenient and downright frustrating it might have made me fail. And sure enough I went through all of the stages of grief in one lightning round of a weekend.
I woke up from that tear soaked weekend with two main lessons in my pocket. First, you have to make the montage. We have all sat through fabulous, mostly pointless, feel good movies that show a protagonist enduring a crisis, not sure at all if they will survive it/win the heartthrob/raise the money/beat the Russians. And we all live for the montage, right? Those blessed 3-4 minutes in a movie where we get to zip through the entire process of how they meet their goal. We get to skip the grueling practices, the missed free throws, the unfortunate acne explosion and the actual sweat and tears that went into meeting their end goal. Instead, we get to watch a montage compiled of all of the fun scenes, smushed together, usually set to a wonderful guilty pleasure Bieber song, showing just how they got exactly what they wanted. We get to skip the hard parts. Instead, we get to tap our feet to “Love Yourself” and smile at all of the shenanigans.
In life, no one makes a montage for you. When you set a hard goal, you have to do the hard work. (You can do it while listening to Bieber if that makes it better for you, but you still have to do it.) You have to fail a couple of hundred times before you succeed just once. You have to be rejected and turned down. You have to be criticized and corrected. You have to live outside of your comfort zone. You have to create all of the scenes that will appear in your montage. And it hurts. You will want to quit. Laying on my couch last weekend, I wanted to quit. Quitting felt safest. Quitting felt easy. But quitting also felt like a huge mistake I would come to regret.
So I didn’t quit. Instead, I stumbled upon lesson number two. In the midst of my shame in those 18 hours on the couch, all I wanted to do was push everyone who came near me as far away as possible. It just so happened that this weekend for our family was a pretty big social weekend. Greg and I had a rare date night planned.We had invited dear friends over for dinner the next night. Levi was having a soccer practice with his best friend, which meant I got to see one of my best friends, Levi’s best friend’s mom. I had volunteered to watch the kids of some other friends of ours at the end of the weekend. Everywhere I looked from my vantage point on the couch, I saw people. And all I wanted to do was cancel everything. I wanted to bail. I wanted to let them all down and I didn’t care what they would think.
And I let myself sit in that isolation for a few hours from my pity party on the couch. I imagined telling them all one by one that I wouldn’t be able to hold my commitments. I rehearsed the excuses I could make. I wondered if I could just make Greg make all the excuses for me. I refused to look at Greg when he would attempt to comfort me. I shut everyone out. Until I realized this was getting me nowhere.
To be honest, I needed a few hours to be alone with my grief. I needed some time to “get curious about my emotions” like my therapist keeps urging me to do. I needed some time to journal and stare out the window. But then a moment came where I realized that my grief was starting to get too heavy. I was drowning from the weight of it. I had tread to waters that were too deep and I had lost the energy to swim back to shore.
So I sent an SOS. I texted my three closest friends and I begged them to come rescue me from drowning. I asked for their prayers and for their encouragement. I was completely honest with them about the shame demons that were sitting on my chest and I asked them for help. They dropped everything in their busy, child filled lives and they towed me back to shore.
I let Greg in. He is sometimes the hardest person for me to let fully into my emotional life because I can’t pick and choose what he sees like I can with everyone else. He sees the wreckage and although he is the safest person in the world for me, sometimes his kindness when I am burning makes me feel too vulnerable, too known and I pull back from him. But I finally decided to let him in.
And inviting people I love and trust into my shame, into my cave of doubt and insecurity, made it not seem so dark and lonely anymore. Reaching out gave me something to hold onto while they pulled me back to shore with them.
Be not deceived, my writing instructor still thinks I have nothing to say and no good words to use even if I did find something to say. My weekend on the couch didn’t solve any of that. I didn’t learn how to become Hemingway with one bad weekend. My montage doesn’t end with The New Yorker offering to publish everything I’ve ever created. But my montage, that took my blood sweat and tears to create, ends with me recognizing where my true worthiness lives. It ends with me feeling loved and cared for. And it ends with being fully known and cherished anyways. It ends with me plugging away at my laptop, striving to be better and recognizing that I write because I love it, not because anyone else does.
And if you want to know, my montage is set to “Here It Goes” by Jimmy Eats World.