Change




 “To change one’s life:  Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.”
—William James

It is Friday morning. The kids are in school. I should be getting to work now but I just got back from a magnificent run along the river and I am full to bursting with things I need to say so I am just going to sit down and write. This doesn't have to be a long post. I don't have to put that pressure on myself that because I haven't written in a long while I have to make up for it with some kind of spiritual reckoning for the time "lost." I can just come here and dash off a few quick things, what it was I thought about as I jogged along the river. It seemed to be already fairly coherent in my head as I ran. The thoughts re-arranged themselves into various patterns like a kaleidoscope and now all I have to do is type them all up. 

Right?

Hah! Now that I'm sitting here, all I can remember are a few phrases: "Deer ears" was one of them and "Perfect is the enemy of the good" which I say all the time but never know whom to credit. Voltaire? He gets the credit but it was someone else originally but no one knows who the someone else was. All week I had tried to run (jog, really, really slow jog if it can even be called that) up the river after dropping the kids off but the first four times I couldn't make it. And one of the reasons I couldn't make it was because I had, last weekend, stupidly tried to do yoga with Petra on my back and this had really, I guess, hurt my back.

I didn't have the idea to put Petra on my back. I was not trying an extra workout challenge. Opposite. I was trying to slow down and go inward with music and a candle and incense and Petra kept climbing on my back and I said, I am going to be a yoga-mom-warrior and just power through. Even a toddler (the world's most powerful creature) will not stop me! I won't wait for the mythical, free, empty moment when I can do tree pose with silent gratitude. No, I will do it with the sound of the construction outside and upstairs neighbors moving their piano (this is what it sounds like they do several times a day, every day) and Petra crawling all over me. 

One problem: I am not strong enough to yoga-while-mothering.

I can write-while-mothering. I did it nearly every day this summer. I have all kinds of tricks for that and put them into my Writer's Boot Camp books (a new one coming up soon...maybe by the holidays? Or perhaps it's for January, New Year, New You kind of thing. I will find out). But I am just not strong enough to do a downward dog and plank and sun breaths with a 40+ pound toddler on my back. It’s something you have to practice. I foolishly got ahead of myself. And that attempt led to a cascade of headaches that interfered in all the other runs and meant I had to skip yoga this week.

So, today I forced myself to go really, really slow. You'd think there was nothing in between the really, really slow speed from the other days and actually standing still but I managed to find it. And I did not stop, as I had the other days, to get in a few downward dogs when I saw a beautiful patch of grass in the sun. Instead I just stayed quietly within myself at that slow pace and made it all the way back home.

And here I am.

The easy lesson, like so many others, can be reduced to aphorisms. Expressed in clichés. Haste makes waste. Slow and steady wins the race. Tortoise, not the hare. Small, achievable goals. 

Why is it I am finding myself learning these same lessons again and again? Or I should not say learning them, rather, I am demonstrating their truth, again and again, re-learning them, trying to accept them. Coming back to them. A million variations on a theme.
*

I held a writer’s group on Wednesday evening. It was something I’d thought about for a long time in the years since my other writer’s group dissolved. It felt like an idea that was growing in urgency with various women writer friends of mine. Many friends from different realms – from Dartmouth, from my editor days, my band days, my mom days, my Fordham days, one even from elementary school (we haven’t re-met yet, but have communicated on email, originally because she answered a Facebook post of mine looking for subjects willing to take a survey about writing habits). All of us itching to write more. Eager for the support and structure that comes from having a group.

For a while I floundered thinking I better ask everyone when is the best time to meet, what day, what hour, where, how long? What method should we use? Workshop pieces? Send drafts before-hand or just show up? What do you think about using The Finishing School method, it seems really cool, I just read the book.

And then I thought – No, no, no, you’ll never get anywhere that way. You’ll end up with those Doodle surveys with lots of little x’s and no time that works for a clear majority and tons of emails back and forth and you’ll never actually meet. You can’t dream about it. Can’t just hope it manifests by going inward and meditating on it. Pick a place. Set a date. If you build it, they will come.

So I did. And sent out the invitation. And immediately got more happy “Yes” responses than I’d imagined. Day by day, the group was growing. Energy was circling around it. September 13! A new beginning! And...as it turns out, as I found out a day or two after picking the date, also the Open House/Meet the teacher night at Wally and Petra’s school. At first I thought I'd have to re-schedule but then I realized I had to stay committed, to the other women writers and to myself. Something will always come up. I’ll see if Alex can go and I’ll get a babysitter. I can't afford right now to get a babysitter but I have to get one. Date night can wait—but writing night. That HAS to happen.

Throughout the day I received various cancellations, over email, over Facebook, “don’t think I can make it,” and in some cases, silence. And on my side there were many obstacles – rain, a "cocked up" (as my grandmother would say) pick-up plan to get Wally from Kung Fu and deliver him to meet the babysitter who would at that point have Petra (two local Kung Fu dads, both with first-letter "D" names? Anyone?) –but at last, not even late, I made it to the time and place I'd set with an array of papers in hand and The Finishing School book and snacks and we had Pinot Grigio and…there I was! I made it!

I arrived to find Jeannine, and how happy I was to see her! We spoke for a while and along came Amie (you may know her from here) and how happy I was to see her. Two wonderful friends—and they'd never met! 

But, nagging thought as I considered the tiny group, no need for extra chairs—even with all the cancellations, I thought there’d be a slightly better turnout. I kept looking up at everyone who walked near by, expecting to happily greet another member of our little merry band. But, no, just us three. So it wasn’t a “real” meeting after all. I’d gotten the babysitter and gone through all the hassle and Jeannine gave up seeing her kids entirely that day and Amie gave up time she needed for work and made a long, long trip into the city from suburban Connecticut just to meet and it was a flop, a failure, a group of no-shows, excuses, exceptions, not changing our lives, not immediate or flamboyant at all.

But, it turned out to be one of the most if not the most satisfying writing-related get-togethers I have ever had. We talked about projects that haunted us. The fear of opening long-buried manuscripts. We listened to each other. It was such a change from all my writing classes where forget someone actually looking into your eyes and caring what you had to say. In those classes it was all I could ever do not to get cut off mid-sentence by an uber-confident male. Every writing class was teaming with them; many taught by them.  

In this meeting we defined our goals. We committed to deadlines. And maybe best of all Jeannine and Amie clicked so fantastically and I know in a bigger group that might never have happened. So now here they are, beginning a new friendship, and the other writing women can join the merry band another time. We did not wait for the perfect date. We picked the imperfect one. (And we somehow ended the night with free drinks on 43rd street!)

We started small. But we started

William James – you’re wrong. To really change, you don’t start immediately. Rarely flamboyantly. 

You do it at a shaky little table in Bryant Park with a notebook and a pen and a friend or two and you know that if you show up and keep showing up and reach for what’s possible not for what sounds radically magical, then you are exactly where you need to be. 


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Comments

  1. What a great story, so well told: the drama, the hope deferred, then realized. The old lessons re-learned or at least demonstrated anew :-) Your example of perseverance, and your reward. Friends. It all makes me very happy.

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  2. Wow - what a wonderful comment to wake up to this morning. Thank you GretchenJoanna!

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  3. This story makes me so happy! So glad you were able to do this for yourself (and your friends) and so glad it worked out so well.

    :)
    d

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  4. Thank you! Starting small and maybe staying small. Similar situation today with a garden/mindfulness session—very low attendance—free, with snacks, coffee, etc. & some prompts from my Mindful Gardener book plus yoga sequence and guided meditation with Sharyn Hahn—but only 6 people showed up (plus me and Sharyn). I was mad at myself for, at various points, focusing on the low attendance, being disappointed. But I let that thought come and go and tried to focus on the fact that it was a supportive, nurturing group and a wonderful yoga/writing session and, just like in Wednesday's writing group, had it been more people, we would have felt more inhibitions and the interpersonal connections would not have been as strong.

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  5. I am in tears. First, because this line made me snort-laugh so hard that I got that burny in my sinuses feeling- like when you hiccup while sipping sparkly wine: "You'd think there was nothing in between the really, really slow speed from the other days and actually standing still but I managed to find it."

    And then because you have so beautifully described our perfectly imperfect night. Inspiration. New friends and old. Goals. And the promise to be self-affirming, not self-effacing. I am so grateful. And so excited to see you both again soon. xxoo

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