A long time ago, I began writing. I wrote in a sort of journal-esque manner whenever the mood struck me. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I was usually drawn to writing when I was feeling down. I scratched angry words. I painted poems of sadness. The words, always punctuated with a deep loneliness, flowed from my pen with such ease. I became a master of describing the sadness, the fear, the anxiety, and the isolation that ran rampant through me.
And then one day, I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. Or rather, I’d written myself into a box. I love writing. I love creating. I love telling stories and I love sharing myself with the world. But, I had gotten so good at writing about sad things that I was a complete novice with ZERO practice writing about the beautiful things in life (and there are so many!). Like the cartoon-figured muscle man who always misses leg day at the gym, the biceps of my depressed writing had overgrown the weak little legs of my writings of beauty, gratitude, wonder, discovery.
And worst of all, I realized that the evolution of my writing reflected the evolution of my own thoughts about life. I realized that I took great care in my head to explore, uproot, and analyze my sadness, anger, grief. But, I spent very little time discovering the essence of my happiness. I gave a cursory nod and faint smile to the sound of my children laughing, the warm embrace of my husband after a long day, the wonder of sunrises over the mountains. You get the picture.
If you consider the dance of life to be that of a pair of lovers, and the play between them is a discovery and display of their dependence and their devotion. They need each other. They want each other. The lovers are Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment. (They should really have sexier names like Sophia and Marlon, but they don’t.) Who leads? Who follows?
My lovers have fallen into a sort of unbalanced, aggressive, nearly abusive dance. Relentless Pursuit of a Better Life (that’s his full name) has forced the dance. Step here, pull there, dip, slide, step. “Me not you”, he says. And Supreme Contentment yearns to linger a bit longer in the embrace, to drape her hair and add a little swivel to her step.
When Travis and I were first dating, he wanted so badly to teach me to dance. We attended classes and practiced at home. The biggest challenge was that I insisted on leading. (Yes, I didn’t know the steps very well, but he didn’t seem to have an ear for the rhythm of the music… sheesh!) One day he told me, quite bluntly, that this dancing business will only work if I allowed him to take the lead. I was offended in a sort of feminist way. Why on earth did that make any sense for HIM to lead? Can’t we BOTH just drive forward together. Can’t we both just demand from each other and ourselves the Relentless Pursuit of a Better Dance?
When we were both driving forward, our dance became more of a mission and less of a celebration. When Travis led and I surrendered to Spaghetti Arms (remember Dirty Dancing?), the dance was his dance and I was a wilted piece of lettuce. But when I allowed Travis to lead, to pursue the next step and to choreograph, my work then was to add the flair. To swing my hips and flounce my hair with each turn and dip was my role. Without me, the dance was rigid. Without his lead, the dance lacked structure and courage. It is his determination and my damn-hot booty bumps that make our dances beautiful and full of love. For years we’ve curated our dance – on and off of the dance floor.
You see how this can happen with our thoughts, actions; and, how it’s happened with my writing. The more that I drive forward to improve, the more focus there is on what is bad. When I allow for gratitude, wonder, and love to have a voice and a place, the balance of Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment dance like the impassioned lovers they are, driving forward and always taking time to throw their heads back in laughter.
So what did I do to change this dance?
First, I write. I write first everyday. I wake up when the house is still sleeping, I pour a cup of coffee and I write. I don’t craft. I don’t pay attention to punctuation or sentence structure or anything other than getting words from my head onto the paper. Julia Cameron in The Artists Way calls this practice Morning Pages. And it helps me blow the dust off of my brain so I can approach the day from a fresh perspective.
Second, I practice. Rather, I am practicing. I make a conscious effort to see the pretty stuff. I take time (even a few seconds!) to remind myself how delicious coffee tastes with the perfect amount of cream, how funny Joe is when he’s describing his day, the richness in the color of my sister’s ginger hair, how soft and quiet the snowy scene appears when looking out my window. I’m taking time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.
Lastly and most importantly, I’m telling YOU all of this. Sharing with you the Truth of Me has been the single most important practice for learning to appreciate what a beautiful life I live. When I describe to you what I feel and think and why reminds me that although my sadness and loneliness has been better documented, my happiness and love is just as big and just as important.
So, I sign off with a commitment to you. I promise to explore and document my happiness. And I promise to share it with you.