Thoughts: Meanderings of a Born Again Poet

This morning I wrote two poems.

The first one was so so. A little platitude filled. Good thoughts, mediocrely written. The second one was, I think, pretty good.  I posted them both.

I tend to post poems as I write them. I write. Rewrite. Prune. Rework and post. Others perhaps, would let them settle and come back to them. There’s some wisdom in that. But I don’t.

I discovered something today. On days I write two or more poems, the first one is always the weakest. I thought that when I wrote today’s poems, and when I looked back a few weeks, it proved to be mostly true.

“Why is that?” I wondered.

As I thought about it, I thought about my process a little. I am a disciplined writer, in that I sit down nearly every day, at a certain time, and write. I write first in my journal, and secondly, I write poetry or essays for my various blogs.

Most days, it comes pretty easily. Like any skill, when you work at it regularly (and I write for much of my work as well.), you get pretty good at it. My journal writing sort of breaks the logjam loose, and away I go.

Except of course, when I don’t.

Some days I am just flat. I don’t have a lot of emotion going on. I am not struggling with anything. Or I am struggling too much with things. The words have to be chipped out of me like carving marble. Slow and painstakingly.

But I write anyway. And often, it’s not my best work. It feels (to me) like the struggle it took to write it. Technically good. But lacking in passion. Like the difference between an English landscape painting by Robert Gallon…

Robert Gallon

… And something by Salvadore Dali:

Painting

The difference, of course, is that by the time I have plowed through writing the first poem, I am loosened up. I am more tapped in. I have plowed through my own barriers and more open to being open.

“Write what you know.” the old adage goes. The first poem is almost inevitably what I think. The second one is what I feel. What I know. And it’s better.

The trouble is, I never know if a second one will come. Some days, all I get is the thinking poem, all technically correct with good, skilled writing and utterly devoid of life. Maybe I am the only one who sees it, but I suspect you guys notice the difference, despite your kind words on both types of poems.

So I post the first one.

You see, when I was in therapy after my divorce, my therapist told me I needed to write again. I had been a writer for much of my adult life and that had fallen to the wayside in the bustle we call life, and I had paid the price. NOT writing had been one of many factors in my coming undone. (not to mention the divorce itself.).

So she had me write. And she suggested I begin a blog. “Having readers, even half a dozen, will tap into your sense of responsibility and make sure you keep writing.”

She was right.

I began my blog, with no expectations of readers, and just wrote and posted. I still do that. Whether or not you care that I write every day, I like to pretend you do. It does feed that responsible gene (Dang therapists, they keep being right.) and keeps me at it. Good days. Bad days. I write.

And I post.

I don’t bank things towards a flat day or a day when might not want to write. I keep no backlog. This makes me trust the muse, God, inspiration, my own skill, to provide something every day. Manna, I call it, like the biblical bread God provided Moses and the Israelites in the desert.

Trusting that something will come, and then acting on that trust, day after day, generally means it comes. That’s true in poetry, and in life in general. So I trust and I write and somehow it works out.

That’s what I have learned. One of the lessons I have taken from the first half or so of my life. Trust and act, day after day, and things work out. I have given up trying to understand why. I am content with the fact that it does. When I write. And as I live.

Good poems and bad.

Just the act of writing helps me. I am glad when someone says something I have written has touched them or was just what they needed. I love hearing that, in fact. It gives additional purpose to my writing. But I write, ultimately, for myself. For my sanity. You guys get to come along for the ride.

Good poems and bad.

So now you know my process. There’s no grand plan. Heck, there’s no plan at all. I just do it. In the moment, whatever happens that moment. I’ve come to believe that writing, in general, is more powerful when it is less processed, and more real, more in the moment, with the emotions overflowing, our skill barely able to contain it. Raw.

That’s the hard stuff, of course. Most of us don’t like being revealing. I know I don’t. But, it seems to do me good. It seems to do some of you good. So even if it does not always feel good, it seems to be a good thing. And I do it every day. My sanity preserver.  One of the things that brought me back from the brink, many years ago.

So there you go. Meanderings of a born again poet.

Have a good weekend. Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Thoughts: Tom the Berserker


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I went into therapy about a decade ago because I felt like I was coming apart. A couple of months after I began, my life really did fall apart.

Regular readers already know my story. I fell into a black place. Depression on steroids. You know, the kind of depression you read about where you feel paralyzed, where you can’t get going, can’t make yourself do things, where you struggle to get going in the morning. Yeah, I was pretty much the poster child. Cue fetal position.

Some people ask me if I have “triggers” for depression, things that send me into a dark place. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that because sometimes you live with something so long that you don’t really think about it. It just is. As I have thought about it, and looked back, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that simple.

There’s no “one size fits all” way to deal with depression. It seems to be part art and part science and part war and it takes a while to sort out how much of which it takes to beat the beast back.

There’s the science of course. We know that depression is a disease or syndrome – it’s physical. Most of us have a mix of chemicals and hormones that keep us thinking and feeling in healthy ways. For a few of us, that mix gets out of whack, and our brains begin to lie to us, tell us things are bad, that we aren’t loved, that we can’t get going, that it’s useless, that we are useless, unlovable, not enough, that life is hopeless.

And our brain, wonder that it is, is pretty stupid. If our mix of chemicals and hormone tell us it’s hopeless, it believes us. It becomes reality.

To get past it, first we have to get our chemical mix right. That’s why we take medication. (I call mine “happy pills” even though that’s not really what they do.). For me, and most of us, it doesn’t fix much, but it at least makes it possible for us to do the other half of what we have to do without the chemicals in our head sabotaging us.

You see, that brain of ours has been lying to us for years, maybe decades. And when we tell ourselves something over and over and over, that dumb brain of ours believes it. It becomes OUR reality. So the second part of the journey is to start re-teaching our brain. That’s what therapy does. It helps us find the lies we’ve been telling ourselves, the things we have been hiding from or have put into some closet trying to avoid the pain or the confusion, the things that have told us what a useless piece of humanity we are, or have paralyzed us.

That’s actually pretty hard work. Really hard work. I’ve had to do physical therapy for injuries and that kind of physical work HURTS. It takes time. The progress is slow. It’s frustrating.

Therapy is harder.

But it’s an essential part of the process. ad oh so worth it. And if we see it through, with a good counselor, it can work wonders. On depression, and a host of other things. I used to laugh at shrinks and the whole idea, a belief inherited from my father, who had a disdain for such things, thinking that it was all mumbo-jumbo. I am an evangelist now.

So, with all that background (Sorry, I tend to wander, and nothing is simple so I tend to tell too many back stories. Sigh.), let me answer the question, or at least begin to.

If we depressed folk are on medication, then hopefully the chemicals in our brain are all nice and balanced. And if we’re doing the therapy part, we’re making progress in undoing the lies our brain has been telling itself. All is good… except.

Except our brains are not a stable thing. No, I am not saying we’re all psychotic, but only that things change. As we age, as we live with more or less stress, the chemical mix may change. So even with my “happy pills”, I may not always be in balance. As long as life goes on with normal ups and down my depression is pretty much under control. Until it isn’t. Until something changes.

That something can be a trigger. Or it can be chemical Or it can be a wearing down because of stress or self-neglect (We depressed folks are notoriously bad at self-care.). It can be fast, or (more commonly) it can sneak up on us while we are not watching.

That’s where the third factor comes in. Anger.

First, let me tell you that I hate anger. HATE it. As a kid, I bore my father’s temper with fear and trepidation. He could totally paralyze me with his anger, and for much of my life, and I do mean most of it, anger had that same effect – it paralyzed me. I hated it in others. And I hated it when I felt it, sure somehow that I was bad when I showed anger. It took years and years for me to move past that point. I still go, very, very briefly into that fight or flight place when someone is unloading on me , but it’s crazy brief now. It just doesn’t have that effect any more.

And maybe, more importantly, I have learned how to use my anger. Like a sword. Like a shield. Not on myself. Not (often) on others. But on my depression.

I have declared depression to be my enemy. It has, after all, all the elements of a good villain. It lies. It is controlling, but always negatively. It’s sneaky. It is destructive. I had a good life before my depression and my depression has cost me a lot of years without that good life. I don’t hate well, but I will tell you this. I HATE my depression.

Hate is very valuable in this context. It gives me an energy to fight depression even when I am tired, beat up, worn out, don’t want to and would just like to give in. But anger, well used, has a power and energy that I often lack on my own. It is my arch nemesis. Like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes. Always there, in the shadows, lurking, waiting.

This is not being mad. We get mad at people and it flares and goes away. This is an abiding, fiery, deep-from-my-soul anger. My depression took a lot from me, and I have taken it back. I fight to defend what I have reclaimed. Fighting and anger are still not comfortable to me, never will be. I love peace. I love low stress.

But anger fuels me every day. And without it, I would be riding much more of a roller coaster with my depression than I do now. Anger puts me on my guard, on the offensive and gives both my medicine and my cognitive work (therapy) a fighting chance. Because it IS a fight.

Is it right for everyone, this anger? I don’t know. It works for me. Others who do well with their depression tell me that it works for them too.

A lot of us who are open about our depression, talk about how we suffer depression. Some manage it. A few of us talk about battling it. I don’t want to suffer it. I am not even satisfied managing or battling it. I want to be a frigging berserker, horned Viking helmet, shining broadsword, steel shield and all, screaming like a madman as I charge it each day, eyes ablaze and full of fury

Quietly of course. Don’t want to wake the neighbors.

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

Prose Poem: The Aftermath of War

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I have lived in wars in my life.

Not the headline-grabbing kind, but the private kind, where people hate and relationships are torn asunder and characters are assailed and projections, truth, and lies are so mixed up that one is hard to discern from another.

I have been a victim and a warrior and at times both. I have won. I have lost. No, change that. I have always lost.

Because in the end, no one wins wars. The victors crow. The losers dig out of the rubble. Both bear scars. There are deaths on both sides. Things are lost on both sides. Deep, deep things.

There are scars. Some fade. Some never do.

I see this in history. Years ago, when I went to Munich, Germany, I saw the city, rebuilt and resplendent. After World War Two, The city was resurrected from the rubble of war. The Germans went out of their way to rebuild in a way that captured the essence of what had been there before the war. Row houses and such were reconstructed in a similar style as before the war. WIth a quick glance, it is hard to tell the newer building from the originals.

But look closer and you see. Embellishments are missing. Details that punctuate the originals are simply not there. The brick work is different. The glass is different, no longer wavy and bubbled and aged.

The same is true of me. Likely of you as well. I look similar to the man I was 10 – 15 years ago. I do many of the same things, fill many of the same roles in life. I love many of the same things.

And yet, at the same time, I am radically different. Things that came easily to me like love and openness and trust are hard work now, victims of war. Still there, but things that today I have to work at, no longer natural. My creativity, also once so easy it was dazzling, died. Always slow at processing feelings and sorting out truth, now I am positively glacial in the slowness of it all. I have crawled through bouts of depression that were scary bad, dark debilitating places that made just getting up in the morning hard.

It’s been more than a decade, over a third of it with great counselors and good pastors and those things are not coming back. They are gone. The victims of wars that never appeared in the papers and never took an act of congress. Secret wars that only those closest to me have seen, and even them, only from afar.

But here’s the thing about wars. Something is lost, but, assuming you survive (and I fully understand that some don’t), then new things come from it.

Feelings may come slowly to me, but I think better. I get overwhelmed by emotions less. I may be slower in trusting love and trusting friends, but the love and the trust, once I am there, is far deeper, far stronger, far more valuable to me simply BECAUSE I have to work to make myself open to it. My creativity has returned, and it too, is more precious to me than it was before, simply because I understand what it is like to lose it.

My depression is alive and well. But I have tamed it. Sure, it’s a day to day war, battle after battle I win most days. I lose now and then. But I have learned its wiley ways. I understand that there is no letting down my guard. I have learned that while I may never win the war, neither will I ever lose. It’s not the monster, it’s just a pesky petulant child that has to be kept in its place.

I am stronger. Once avoidant of all conflict, I’ve learned, at a ripe old age, to deal with it. I no longer flee from it indiscriminately. I choose my battles, I no longer apologize when I choose to walk away. I no longer apologize when I choose to do battle. That choice is mine, and I am less buffeted by what people think than I once was.

The list goes on and on. There are things that I miss from the pre-wars me. I don’t dwell on them, but when they come up, the sadness and sense of loss is deep. I missed the natural development of who I was. I missed a few years of having my kids with me day in and day out. I missed the feeling of security in relationship that was part of my life once. I missed the confident, almost cocky me that so many things came easy to.

But I don’t dwell. Because I like the stronger me. I like the more deliberate me. I am slower at finding truth, but more confident in it once I do get there. I am more appreciative of inspiration. I am far more spiritual and faithful. I am OK with my scars (and they are plentiful). I like knowing what I can survive. I like knowing that no matter how battered and broken I am at any given moment, I will grow out of it, into something new and perhaps different, but still of worth, still able to live in joy.

And I am far more compassionate than I was before. Being broken, completely broken yourself can do that to you, do that for for you. I no longer feel for the broken people in my life. I feel with them. There’s a big difference.

I am far more aware of my flaws now, having had them heaped on my in the midst of battle like a volley of enemy fire. I can’t ignore the bullet holes where those who hate me have hit my weaknesses, my flaws, my vulnerabilities. I don’t need to look in a mirror any more to see my flaws. They bleed all over me and each scar reminds me where I fall short. Just because there is healing, it doesn’t mean that I can’t see them and feel them. Instead, they are reminders of how much work is left to be done. And it’s a lot.

These are lessons some people come to young. And they are lessons some never come to. I am, it seems, a late bloomer. Or I have been slow in my recovery. But that’s OK. We are on the path we are on for a reason and it’s far less about us than we think when we are young.

The most important thing I learned is that I’ll survive. I will mourn and I will hurt and things will be lost and that’s OK. That’s the way of it. Because at the same time new things will grow. After a war, winner or loser, what emerges is something new. And just as precious. And just as worthy. Just different.

So pardon me as I climb out of the rubble of the latest battle. And prepare for the next. I have seeds to plant, and songs of gratitude to sing, even as I bleed.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Thoughts: Seven Years Journey

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This May, I will have been in Vermont seven years. Although the locals might feel differently, I am no longer a Virginian in Vermont, but I have become a Vermonter.

I came to Vermont to be close to someone, to see if that relationship was the one. It was a gamble. I knew that when I moved here. But it seemed a risk worth taking, leaving behind the place you have lived for fifty some odd years. Not a risk everyone would take, not an adventure everyone would take. I am sure at least a few of my friends questioned the choice, thinking perhaps it was too soon after my separation and divorce to do such a thing. That is was more of a reaction than a real choice.

I see it differently. I was a few years out by the time I moved here. It wasn’t done on a whim, but was a choice I came to over time, nearly a year. That’s kind of how I do big changes. I think and pray over them for ages. I look into things. I look into myself.

But all of that is internal work. Hardly anyone sees it. And the few who see it rarely understand that I am not talking idly, so they often are as surprised as anyone once I make my choice. It was that way with this. I thought about it for many months, but when I made the choice, I made it and never looked back.

That too would be a surprise. Typically, on day to day things, I have a “plan B” and often “Plans C, D and E” in place. My kids and I joke that I am a paranoid old broadcast guy, because broadcasters (the industry I worked in for over 30 years) always have a backup plan, and me? I have two of anything important. Two cars. Two hot water heaters. Two computers.

But when I make a big choice – a job, a relationship, a place to live…. I am all in. I didn’t rent a place when I moved to Vermont. I bought a house. I committed.

Commitment used to come easy to me. Love used to come easy to me. Trust used to be second nature. But when my marriage fell apart, those things became hard. Working my way back to my natural state was just that, work. Again, people who had known me a long time might not have seen that. They saw the guy they had always known, who had committed, loved and lived all in. But that guy was pretty much rubble, just like the rest of me.

Buying the house in a strange state, was the first step back, though I didn’t realize it at the time. It was a commitment, not a toe in the water. I had to take a deep breath, even after all the thinking and praying before I did it.

And from that point, I’ve slowly reclaimed some of my ability to commit, trust, love and try new things. But none of it is second nature any longer. It’s work. It’s a choice and at times it scares the hell out of me. I miss the days when it came naturally. I miss them a lot. But perhaps it’s for the best. I didn’t always make the best choices. Most of them worked out because when we are committed to something they often do. But some of them caused me, and likely the people around me, some pain. And I hate that. Maybe this more thoughtful way is healthier for everyone concerned.

The relationship that drew me here did not work out as I had hoped. But I found something else.

I found a peace I did not know I needed. I found confidence in myself again. I found a place of safety. I rediscovered my spirituality (Not my religion, but my connection to God.). I lost a job I loved, but in losing that job, I discovered work that was less a job, and more a calling. I discovered that I enjoy a bit of adventure in my life, just as much as I enjoy the peace and quiet. This became my safe haven, and later, it became my kid’s safe haven as well as one by one, they moved up here while they were in high school.

Not everyone has to leave where they are and move to a whole new place to do those things. I admire those who can work themselves to that better place where ever they are. And perhaps, now, I could do that.

But I couldn’t then. I didn’t know I couldn’t, but looking back, I have come to realize I needed to begin again, hard as it was. I was far more broken than I realized at the time. (And I knew I was pretty broken.) Had I understood the journey I still needed to take, I am not sure I would have had the courage to do in a place without the friends and family I had leaned on for most of my life.

But as it turned out, that’s exactly what I needed. To be free of the crutches of the past, and to go where I had no choice but to spend lots of time looking inside, of struggling, just me and God and a few new people who had no pre-conceived notion of who and what I was or wasn’t. No expectations.

Seven years in, I have reclaimed much of who I was. Mostly the good parts, I hope. And I have found new parts of me that I may have never discovered or had the courage to do or try had I stayed put. I am not the same. I am the same. Some of both

I would like to think I was wise, moving to Vermont. What I was is lucky. What I was is blessed.

And so I am a Vermonter. I love the winter, so much colder and whiter than what I was used to. I love the quarries and tiny towns and sense of communities struggling to be relevant. I love the crazy patchwork of people who live here. I love the new history and geography I have to traverse. I love no longer being certain about anything, because so much of it is still so new. I love my tiny church. I love the abundance of old houses. And I love that this is one of the most tolerant states anywhere. Eccentrics are not just tolerated, but embraced. They hardly notice me here. Natives may never consider me one of them, but they have embraced me anyway. They don’t expect perfection, and they don’t pretend to it. They just are. And they allow me to just be.

The adventure is nowhere near done. At least, I hope not. That perhaps was the best thing to learn. That, even though I am middle aged, there is growth to be had, changes to make, adventures to live. I have always lived in a fear of becoming old at heart. I kinda thought, a decade or so ago, that I had become one of those who were comfortably numb (to quote Pink Floyd). And worse, I was OK with it.

No more. You can’t see my determination in that, but it’s as hard as the slabs of slate in the quarry across from my house.

No more.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

Thoughts: On Safety

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The weeks of Christmas and New Year’s used to be time of rumination for me. A time to look back at the past year, and ahead to the next. I probably look very quiet and maybe even withdrawn for those couple of weeks every year, but inside, my mind is spinning madly, taking all the puzzle pieces of the past year and trying to make sense of them. What events changed me? How? What was my part in those changes? What did I do well? What have I done less well? What things from my past affected my decisions? Where was that positive and where did that past hinder me from moving forward. Where the heck is forward anyway?

The weeks of Christmas and New Year’s used to be time of rumination for me. A time to look back at the past year, and ahead to the next. I probably look very quiet and maybe even withdrawn for those couple of weeks every year, but inside, my mind is spinning madly, taking all the puzzle pieces of the past year and trying to make sense of them. What events changed me? How? What was my part in those changes? What did I do well? What have I done less well? What things from my past affected my decisions? Where was that positive and where did that past hinder me from moving forward. Where the heck is forward anyway?

It has always been easy to take that time because in my work, the last couple of weeks of the year are very slow. Most of my clients, unless there is an emergency, don’t want to see me. Most of my vendors are closed for the last couple of weeks. So it is a natural time to do this.

I haven’t done much of that kind of thinking the past decade or so however. Ever since my divorce, I’ve kind of lived in a moment to moment place. Planning ahead didn’t make sense to me, or maybe I just was not capable. When you see 25 years of relationship evaporate, along with all the hopes and plans that quarter century represents, something in you questions the value in making plans.

At first, I was simply in survival mode. My emotions were like the emotions of anyone who experienced deep, deep lost. A loss not just of relationship, but of identity, of direction, of purpose, of…. of so much of who and what I was, or who and what I thought I was.

I healed. Most of us do. But that habit of living in a short term place became just that, a habit. It had worked for me in the trying to survive time, and I fell into it as a safe way to live. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I can see that. I stopped making plans. I did my work. I kept my commitments. I met my deadlines.

Some of it might have been driven by depression, which I have fought for a lot of years. Depression often keeps us from being all we can be. It darkens the sun in our lives. Depression makes it harder to see life in terms of possibilities. Many people think depression keeps you from functioning, and for a few that is true. But for most of us who battle it, we function just fine, but without the drive or joy or sense of possibility that the other 93% of the world gets to experience. It is harder for us to push forward. And so, many of us don’t. We live day to day. Looking too far forward was just too hard.

There’s nothing wrong with day to day, but for me, it was not my natural state. I lived most of my life living in a place of perpetual possibility. I was always making plans. Making things happen. Joyfully diving into things that left me over my head and yet, somehow, pulling it off anyway.

But not for the last decade. I’ve had moments of happiness, but not a lot of deep joy. I’ve had moments of work that I was very proud of, but no direction, no purpose to it beyond paying the bills. I went to church, but didn’t do much except go and worship and heal. I created – poems, essays, art, photography, but with no purpose in mind. Nothing connected. Everything was a moment in time.

The past couple of years have been hard. I lost both of my parents within a year’s time. We sold my parent’s home and broke up all the things that had been a stable part of life since I was ten. I ended a long term relationship. I lost a job. I had about a year where everything that could go wrong, did. Looking back, it was an amazing string of bad fortune.

A lot of my friends worried that my depression, always looming in the background, would rise it’s ugly head and start to win the battle.

For some reason that has not happened. Just the opposite. Don’t ask me to explain why. I have no idea.

Maybe it was my kids. My daughter moved up here to spend her senior year with me, then went to college. She came to me broken emotionally, and in the six years since I have seen her grow back into herself, and grow back into the person I knew she was on track to be. A leader. Compassionate. Smart. She graduated from college. She has dreams again. She is moving towards them. My son moved up here last summer, also broken, though in different ways. In the mere six months since he’s been here, I have seen him blossom. Parts of him I thought might be lost forever are coming back. There is joy in him.

My role for both of them was simply to be a safe place. They’ve taken that safe place and took the steps and did the work to become their best selves. And that courage they showed, and the fact that they have, I believe, wonderful lives being their true selves ahead of them, that began to have me thinking beyond today.

Maybe too, part of my change has come from my parents’ deaths. I have spent a lot of time looking over their lives. How they lived them. How how they lived them affected me and my sisters and still does today. It also pointed something out to me. Neither of them retired until they were in their mid seventies. In fact, hardly anyone in my family ever retired until they were quite old. Way older than I, at 60, am.

I can remember my grandfather. My dad’s dad. After years of having back pain, it got so bad that at age 70 or so, he got back surgery. I remember him telling me afterwards that he never bothered because he figured he was near the end of his life and it didn’t matter. But getting rid of the pain gave him a new lease on life. He bought a new car. A new truck. He began to plan ahead again. And lived till his mid eighties.

And suddenly, this year, all that sunk in. Assuming I take decent care of myself, and someone doesn’t take me out on the NJ turnpike, I’m likely to have a fair number of years, good years, active years, left. Maybe a plan or two would not be a bad idea. Maybe there’s time to accomplish some of the things I’d still like to accomplish.

Maybe too is was because I have a relationship now that lives in possibility. Where it’s safe to say “This excites me” or “This scares me”, or “I am good at this.” or I suck at this.”. It is the most emotionally safe place I have lived in for many, many, many years.

I have been told that I am a “safe” person to talk to. That for the most part, I am gentle and easy to talk to. That people don’t worry much when they are around me about what I think of them. The people I love seem to know that perfection is SO not needed to keep that love. If that is true, it comes from a place of knowing, in painful detail, my own shortcomings.

I don’t think I realized the value of that safe place. It was just something I do. But now, having it in my own life, I understand its value. I understand that it frees you to take chances. It gives you a positive energy. It lifts you up. It gives you permission to fail as long as you keep making the effort.

And suddenly, you feel you can plan again. Or at least I do. I have begun to think in longer terms. In terms of possibilities, of futures. I feel more comfortable making commitments.

It’s funny. I have been talking and writing about how important a sense of safety is for many many years. In Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”, a book I used to reclaim my own creative identity several years ago, safety is her first step towards a creative recovery. I think it’s the thing that allows us to flourish. A safe place.

But while I’ve tried hard to create that safe place for others, I think I had forgotten how much I needed it myself. Funny how blind we can be. If I did understand it, I likely would have done things to create that safe place a long time ago. As it turned out, it just happened, God at work perhaps. But it happened. Slowly over the past year or two. In what should have been the worst of times.

So what’s the lesson? Safety first perhaps? I think so. Yes, I do. Rediscovering safety, emotional safety, has changed me. It has healed me. Not completely. I still have a long ways to go. But It has me looking, for the first time in over a decade…. ahead.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Thoughts: One of the Lucky Ones

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I can’t draw a straight line. Evidently I can’t live one either.

There was a time my life ran in straight lines. I set a goal. I got there. I set a goal. I got there. It was hard work, at times gratifying, at times frustrating.

That straight line mentality helped me develop 3 fledgeling technology startups into industry powerhouses. It helped me build two marketing firms. It was the path I used to help grow the churches I was in.

Set goals. Stay on the path till the goal is met. It’s tried and true. Every book on “getting there” talks about goals that way. You have to have them. You have to work them.

I’m still pretty good at doing the goal —> achieve thing. I help others do it too in my consulting and coaching work.

The problem was, and I really didn’t understand it then, is that while that straight line path was satisfying and rewarding (and it was both), it wasn’t nourishing.

Slowly, slowly, oh so slowly, I found myself being drained. I wasn’t even aware of it. It’s amazing how that happens, how your life, your real life, drains out of you one drop at a time and you hardly notice. You think you are doing the right things because the world around you, perhaps even the people around you are always telling you that you are.

You are too busy, too focused on the goal. to understand what’s happening, how your spirit is being drained, how the best you is being swallowed and replaced by the goal. Your eyes are so focused ahead, that you can’t see what is.

Been there. Done that. Own the T-shirt.

Some people do this their whole lives. Some are happy with it. It’s how they mark their self-worth, but the list of goals and accomplishments. God bless ’em. I am envious of their sense of satisfaction and their peace.

Many, and I mean MANY, are not so satisfied. They plow on, aware things are not as they should be deep down, but for many reasons – lack of knowing better, fear of change, fear of what they will find when they look too deep, fear of loss, fear of…. well, the list is very, very long.

Most of these who are not satisfied just live with it. Not quite joyful (which is different than happy), not quite miserable. Sometimes they chip around the edges of their dissatisfaction, take a course here or there, read a book or few. make a few changes, and change the equation a bit, but still never quite get the balance to a place where life is truly joy-filled and deeply satisfying.

Some of those who are not satisfied, a few, a very few, make the decision to change, and work hard at it. I call these the smart ones. They decide the need for a better life overrides the fear of change. Most of my coaching clients fall into this category. Successful people who what to change their success level, who understand that doing things the same way, or chipping at change won’t get them but so far. So they make big changes, they become more mindful and deliberate.

I was not one of the smart ones. I fell in the last category.  One of the lucky ones.

Those for whom it all falls apart.

It did for me. I fell apart. I lost my sense of spirituality, my creativeness, my drive as my marriage and life came unglued about a decade ago. I functioned, sort of. I got work done. I met deadlines. I took the kids on mission trips and vacations. But I was a husk. I had been, I realize now, a husk for a long time. There was little of ME left. I lived in a dark place, a place of depression, and a place of living by inertia, not joy. Habit, not purpose.

I was one of the lucky ones. I got help. I did the work. Step by step, over years, I dug out. I lived in faith even when I did not feel the faith because at the start, I could not see a goal or a horizon or joy. I just knew I could not live in that empty place forever.

I call myself one of the lucky ones because I survive that painful place. Some do not. I see people broken by life all the time, nearly every day. Ones left broken on the roadside. Roadkill.

I call myself one of the lucky ones, because I found good people to guide me and love me through the darkness, and back to myself. To help me find the lessons of my own life without telling me what they were. They were wise and patient and persistent. And literally saved my life.

I was lucky because I found that if I get to my best self, the best opportunities for work and friends and love come to me. That I only need one goal – to understand myself and how to be as good as I can be. Not perfect, simply striving every day, EVERY DAY, to push beyond my own weaknesses and fear and be. If I do that, the rest of life seems to fall into place.

Frankly, I would have rather been one of the smart ones. I admire them tremendously. But being one of those whose life came unraveled taught me something that being smart could not have. It taught me appreciation.

When you lose everything important to you, and find your way back, everything takes on a new value. Every joy. Every conversation. Every meal. Every poem written. Every good book read. Every moment in the sunshine. Every everything. Even the detours and delays because precious.

That gratitude is at a level I never experienced in my straight line life. And it allows me to look at that dark time, and the loss and the pain and the anger and hurt of that time in a good light. It was hard, but it led me here, to a place of unimagined joy.

Even in the struggle.

Yep, there is still struggle. It’s not a life of roses and certainty. Some days I think I am living in a deep fog, not even able to see the path right in front of me. It’s scary some days.

But I am one of the lucky ones. I survived Hell, separation from God and self. and came back. When you survive that, you know the truth. You’re gonna be fine.

And you’re gonna have a heck of a tale to tell on the other side.

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

An Unexpected Artist’s Date

I had a few hours to kill yesterday before I got to work and decided I would go museum hopping. The museum I picked was only a mile from the hotel, so I walked, and was treated to some inspiration along the way. This is why we travel through life with eyes open, and a bit of spare time – to savor the surprises.

I did get to the museum. I did see some great and famous art. But this is what inspired my day.

Tom

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