I feel like I’m letting you down. Like you’ve read this far, waiting to see how it turns out, what words of wisdom, big statements about LIFE, I might be able to elucidate in exchange for the time you’ve invested. But I have been thinking and writing and writing and thinking and talking and reading and re-reading and wanting to make proclamations and they are just not there.
Something has changed. It feels like a good change. But I can’t exactly tell you what it is. As far as I can make out, there isn’t a replicable secret formula. And anyway, if you took the same path as me, or changed the same things as I did, it wouldn’t turn out the same way for you. Even if I did the exact same things over again, but started today, it would turn out differently. That’s the magic and mystery of being alive I guess.
I’m drinking coffee again. For breakfast and again at noon. Four ounces of coffee, with about an ounce of heavy cream and three ounces of foamed milk. I whisper, wickedly and with longing, to the coffee grinder each night before bed See you in the morning my friend. I look forward to noon when the volume of coffee decreases and the volume of cream makes the difference to fill the cup. For the past few weeks coffee has been the majority of my breakfast. Then I’ll have the second cup at noon. Then I will grab a snack-sized bag of Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (sea salt) and eat them in the car on my way to pick up the kids at 2:30 or so. The bag is always empty too soon and then I am hungry and grumpy when the kids get in the car, exhausted from a day at camp and grumpy about their own things. We muddle through the afternoon. If Dave is in town we eat something healthy for dinner. If he is not we have fried chicken or pizza or some combination of wheat and dairy, heavy on the dairy. As I write this I am eating a pack of Lance Toast Chee Sandwich Crackers (peanut butter flavor).
I have not meditated since May 15. I specifically remember thinking about meditating, probably on May 16, and deciding that I did not have a lot of available time and that I wanted to get some writing done so I chose to write instead of meditate and here it is two months later.
I have been on my computer after 9 pm almost every night this week, almost every night since I lost my 50,000 words. Usually until about 11 pm, then I sleep (not especially deeply) and then I wake up, tired, my skin a bit less dewy than usual, maybe a random break-out on my neck or some extra lines particularly around my top lip that I think are due to dehydration more than anything else.
I have not danced (except for drunkenly once at 4 am to four songs, including Toto’s “Africa” twice, during my 20-year college reunion), I have not attended an exercise class, I have not spent ten minutes playing an instrument, I have not taken my supplements, I have not eaten any cultured food, I have not been out of bed by 6:30 once. I have been working in my garden at least, to water the grass since we have had no rain for three weeks, so there’s that.
And I played the iPad game last week. Only very briefly. I also ate about half a bag of cheese curls past 7 pm.
Jenny Goodguts went on sabbatical and – poof! – everything she taught me seems to have disappeared.
This is not a momentary blip as I mourn my lost words. The change started before then. Here’s what happened: the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Adventures with Jenny Goodguts blog was fast approaching and I was writing a post to celebrate the year, to reflect, as I am wont to do.
I sat down one morning to finish the one-year piece — it was nearly done but something didn’t feel quite right. I opened a new, blank document and this swarm of words that had been bumping around in my brain for a few weeks flowed, erupted, out onto the page. I looked at what I had written, about my time in India, in Africa, my struggle to live life in America after that, and saw that I had written something true: My words, the ones I keep to myself, the ones I don’t share at the block party or the playground, the things I really feel.
I felt like laugh-crying, and then I started thinking about the Greek story of Echo, who could only repeat the words of others (more on that to come), and I was nervous to share, as always, but I did share, as I do frequently, but not always, and I felt… I felt powerful. I felt that I had said something that was important for me and that I had said it in a way that was authentic, that got at the heart of something that hadn’t been clear in my own mind, hadn’t been acknowledged, until I read my own words.
I still wanted to do the anniversary piece, mostly to say thanks to my readers, because I don’t think I would have grown in the same way without your encouragement. But, as I was writing what was meant to be a thank-you letter, I realized that Jenny Goodguts needed to go. It wasn’t really a planned thing. It sort of wrote itself.
After writing those two pieces, I knew something had changed for me. I felt I had come to a new jumping-off place. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was that I was jumping, but I felt energized, strong, focused, ready (mostly, or significantly more than I had felt before — who ever really feels ready?).
And then I lost my words. Fifty thousand words of my 80,000-word novel – poof! I have consulted with former and current CIA and NSA staffers and unfortunately there is nothing more to be done.
While waiting to see if the novel was recoverable, I decided to more seriously consider compiling my past four years of blogging into a book, adding a few bits that were not published on the blog for one reason or another. I’ve re-read all of my written thoughts from the day I wrote about my pants before deciding to start the Jenaissance blog in November 2014, to when I left my job and stumbled through building a life structure as someone whose structure had been defined by externals for almost forty years and suddenly is not. Reviewing and remembering has been a frequently enjoyable and seriously sobering journey. Oh, there I am confused about life again. And there I am making another checklist! Oh, look, there I am promising to deliver something else that I never finished. And of course now there is the novel, the one project I felt I was undertaking with a reasonable amount of focus and discipline, and two-thirds is now bytes in the wind.
This walk down memory lane, in combination with recent adjustments to my daily habits, has led to some further introspection about sending Jenny away. What could I have been thinking?
Early on in the life of the Jenaissance blog I wrote down a quote from Walden: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I think when I started to blog I thought: My song, still undetermined in nature, is unsung because I’ve been doing something wrong. There are examples, success stories, there are tricks and tips and systems and habits and routines and practices and, if I can figure out the right combination, if I can identify my own little light, work out the most unique, the very specialist contribution I can make – the gift to the world that only I can give – if I can hold myself accountable and keep my eyes on the prize, I will not go to the grave with the song still inside me.
If I can learn to meditate, eat only foods plucked directly from the bosom of the green earth, if I learn patience, develop a healthy daily routine, if I get enough sleep, if people like me, if I have a healthy local network of friends, if I am a supportive wife, if my children play well with others, if I don’t offend anyone but am still honest, if I curate all of my possessions so that each item I encounter fills me with a gratitude and joy in being alive, if I seek out a supportive network of peers who uplift me daily, if I can identify a stepwise path from point a to point z, where each step is individually fulfilling and, taken together, they lead me to my life’s opus, a perfect match of my skills and passion, I will have earned the privilege of not going to the grave with the song still inside me.
So I set out to build my extraordinary life. I read books and blogs, I thought about mentors, I evaluated relationships, I analyzed myself, I cleared clutter, I bought magnets.
But of course life is not a road trip where you have a clear and correct map to your chosen destination, hand-select appropriate fellow travelers, purchase the perfect gear, exactly what you need and nothing else.
It’s a random tour bus, rammed full of people, that you are dropped into in the dead of night, heading somewhere but a lot of the signs are written in a language that you can’t understand. You hope there’s a benevolent driver, or at least a thoughtful algorithm — rather than a madman behind the wheel. Everyone has different interpretations of what is happening and what should be done. Some people are dropped in the bus with a bulging wallet, and some people are dropped in the bus addicted to crack. You don’t get to choose which you’ll be. You were assigned a seat next to someone, you didn’t choose that either but you’re stuck together, though later, you do get to change seats and pick a new partner. But you don’t know what’s coming next and you’ve never sat beside them during a hailstorm, so you just pray you made a reasonable choice. On sunny days, when you can open the windows, the breeze feels great. On rainy days the toilet reeks and you wish you were sitting closer to the front. You aren’t all heading to the same place and you don’t all see things the same way. But there’s just one bus.
You are unique. But your uniqueness isn’t something inside you that is precious and hidden. Your uniqueness is how you treat others on the bus, and whether you share the song or keep it to yourself.
I have been hung up in wondering for a lifetime now, what is “my” song? How can I sing it? But there is no “my” song. I don’t have a song without the rest of the world. The song is being part of the world-song, seeing the world, the imperfect, beautiful world and sharing what you can do, what is possible for you – today – not in your mind’s eye when you finally have the skills or the network or the whatever. You see the world that is, know you are part of the flow of life, of life and a world that is not in your control, you look for where you can shine a light, today, and you shine it. As brightly as you can.
You can’t sing the song by humming silently in your own head day after day. Making sure you have mastered every note combination so that, no matter what happens, you’ll be ready. You can’t wait until you are so well prepared that there’s guaranteed success. A guarantee that you won’t feel embarrassed. A guarantee that you won’t feel scared. The tour bus doesn’t offer guarantees. Not for anyone. And it is never predictable. No matter how thick the walls of your bubble, you’re on the bus with everyone else and it can bump over a pothole at any point. No checklist, no routine can prevent that.
You don’t need to change your life, fix your life, evaluate your life in order to sing the song. You don’t need a perfect set of habits or a bulletproof routine. I love my checklists, and I’m sure when it feels like life allows it, I will get back to many of my habits. But I’ve been writing for nine hours each day for two weeks straight on coffee and potato chips. I don’t have to wait until everything feels right, and ready, and safe.
What I have to do is to acknowledge the uncertainty, the fear (I don’t know where this bus is going) — to feel the love — and then to sing. Out loud.
To close your eyes, to feel your heart beating, to breathe in and to sing — out loud — and listen to hear the world sing back.