“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
— Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall
I’m a little scared to write today, afraid of what might come out onto the page. I am nervous that the thoughts in my head and the emotions in my heart will get mistranslated as they travel though my veins and into my fingertips as they clickety-clack across the keyboard, leaving lines of black letters across a blank white page. And I am worried, as always, about how those imperfect translations will be perceived by anyone who reads them.
By now I know that it is during those times when I am most nervous, hesitant, or intimidated about writing that I need to write the most. And so I sit at my desk and I tap-tap-tap away, trusting that it will all work out. Somehow.
I’ve been feeling heavy lately. Not just heavy physically, weighed down by a few stubborn extra summer pounds that have accumulated as a result of backyard barbeques and mid-week imbibing and just-because-it’s-summer ice cream treats. But heavy mentally and emotionally as well.
There is the realization that summer is quickly coming to an end. Too soon. Always too soon. And there is the constant push-and-pull of parenting, exacerbated during the summer months when we are in each other’s space more than usual. There are doubts about the direction of my writing career, worries about family members, and frustrations over sibling squabbles all taking up mental and emotional real estate. The weight is not all negative, however. There is an underlying sense of contentment that pervades my days. There is the pride and relief at leading another worship service at my church, made all the more meaningful because my parents, in-laws, kids, and close family friends were there for it. There have been memorable days at the lake, hours spent riding on the back of a jetski watching the sunlight dance on the water. And there is a quiet joy and deep gratitude for my husband, my family, my life.
I am, in other words, filled to the brim. Overflowing.
It is no secret that I am often overflowing, that I am a deep feel-er. In fact, an editor once affectionately called me a “scuba diver” – someone who plunges into the depths. But here’s the thing: scuba diving is a risky endeavor. It’s cold and dark down there, and all that gear is so damn heavy. I’ve written about this overflowing nature before, including in Open Boxes.
“[M]aybe the answer isn’t to care less or feel less, to grow a thicker skin or put a stopper on the valves of our hearts. Maybe the answer is to live a life that is so overflowing, and so permeable that, when we reach the end, we aren’t quite sure where we stop and where the Divine begins.
And so my wish for all the highly sensitive children out there, and all the adults with overflowing hearts, is that we may continue to be filled to overflowing. May we be filled with so much love and hope and courage that it seeps through our pores and rains down on our children and our lovers, neighbors, and friends. May we be filled with just enough heartache, struggle, and pain that our finely tuned spiritual recyclers convert it into empathy, compassion, and kindness.”
But what I am finding this that it is sometimes tricky to figure out how to balance the weight, how to let myself be filled to the brim without collapsing under the weight of myself. A few weeks ago, when Jackson was feeling a little down, I told him that one of the keys to happiness is spending as much time as possible with Your People – the ones who love you most, the ones who make you feel awesome just for being you, the ones who help you be the best you that you can be.
Sometimes I lose sight of this truth, however. I seek approval in the wrong places. I spend time on Facebook interacting with people Out There, instead of the ones who are Right Here. I invest in relationships in which there is not a mutual emotional investment. I measure success in terms of book sales and Facebook likes and blog stats. I compare myself to this woman or that writer, measuring by sales numbers and royalty figures and dress size. I worry too much about the people who haven’t read my work, than the ones who have; I bemoan the people who don’t support me, rather than appreciating the ones who do. I fret about whether anyone will sign up for my next creativity workshop, instead of marveling at the meaningful connections that were forged and the creative energy that was built in the previous groups.
Underneath all of the striving and pushing and comparing is a deep need to be seen, heard, and understood. To feel worthy and whole and accepted. To call myself beloved and to feel myself beloved. After all, isn’t that what we are all hoping for?
Last week, I did a Q&A with my writing friend Wendy Wisner and she asked to talk about some of the biggest surprises since publishing a book. One of the biggest surprises, I told her, is the amount of work it takes to actually sell a book. What I failed to tell her, however, is the negative impact that the marketing process has had on my psyche, on my self-confidence and my sense of worth. The whole process is, essentially, the quest for approval from people who aren’t My People. And that quest, the seeking and striving, has been adding extra weight; it has been filling my oxygen tank with contaminated air.
As I said, I am a deep feel-er. I will always be walking the line between filled to the brim and overflowing. And I will sometimes feel weighted down with the heaviness of all that life has to offer – the good and the bad, the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the sadness. And that’s okay. After all, as the movie Inside Out taught us, all of it matters; all of it makes us who we are.
But what I am I am trying figure out is how to manage the shifting weight, how to be a scuba diver without become crushed under the pressure, how to live with an overflowing heart without losing pieces of myself in the process. I am trying, and I am learning. I am realizing those things that help me manage the weight: getting off Facebook for a few hours, baking cookies for a neighbor, spending the day with Matt and the boys, going to bed unreasonably early, texting a friend from college who I haven’t talked to in ages, writing in this space, saying thank you as often as possible, surrounding myself with My People.
And then I forget all of that and, once again, get caught up in annoying Facebook posts and viral blog posts and the fact that I wasn’t invited to a party that I wouldn’t have wanted to go to in the first place. I forget everything that works and need to remind myself yet again that popularity, money, the dream house, more stuff, Facebook likes, and book sales are not the answer. My People are the answer.
Some of My People are scuba divers like me. Some of them are snorklers who don’t mind that I get a little weighted down and heavy once in a while; they don’t mind that I’m often overflowing with something, with everything. My People are the ones who love me most, the ones who call me beloved and make me feel beloved. My People are the ones who make the filled-to-the-brim heaviness feel like a velvety soft, warm blanket, instead of a cold, wet one.
Who are Your People? And how do you manage times of heaviness?