Judgment and Blame vs Love and Respect

When I was a child my father used to say three things over and over: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” and “there but for the grace of God go I”.

I could see the sense in it, but it got all confused with the Catholic message of “don’t sin otherwise you’ll go to hell” in my head, so I had some untangling to do.  I had to learn how to face my emotions, let my feel and express.  I also had to learn that part of that process can be to go through a period of blame and judgment.

I don’t know if it’s natural and human or if it’s just part of our culture, but everybody seems to do it.  For me it was a way to break through the shame that I felt for just existing.  It was a relief to reach a point of saying “hey!  It’s not my fault”.  It was a huge relief to let my anger out.

But I can see now how, in my blame, I wrote stories that weren’t true, I made monsters out of people who were just the same as me, doing their best, struggling to live up to impossible standards.  Blame felt so good, but actually it was pretty ugly.

I’ve started seeing how I have been using it to form a shield to hide behind, so I don’t have to feel my vulnerability and be confronted with questions that didn’t have any answers.  The all-consuming one was How could you do this to me if you loved me?  It still often is, for me, but blame isn’t working any more, and I don’t really know why.

Maybe it’s because the first thing my Dad said – do unto others etc. – has always really resonated with me.  I know how terrified I am of being judged.  It crucifies you.  I know that I want love and respect.  And maybe also it’s because I’m just beginning to face how when I’m asking that question I’m hurting so bad that it’s almost unbearable.

Blame anaesthetizes the hurt for a while, but it wears off.  It doesn’t touch my heart and really heal me and it can positively hurt somebody else.  My own self esteem and entitlement are lousy so I trash somebody else’s?  How can that be good?  Anyway, I’m sick of anesthetics, sick of how they don’t work.  I’ve more or less broken down the morality thing about those things my father said, so that’s a good thing.  Morality is just another kind of judgment.

It’s not about sin and morality.  It doesn’t make me a bad person if I hang out in judgment and blame, and throw stones at people.  It just means my focus will always be on the other person.   I’ll never be able to resolve those things in me that are crying out for resolution.

Well, the theory is easy, it’s all nice and black and white.  The reality is much more messy.  In my efforts to move away from judgment and blame I don’t want to lose sight of my right to my feelings whatever they are.  And I want to try to remember to make it about me.  That reminds me of something else my Dad said: mind your own business.

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More Washing on the Line – My Love Affair with Italy

    A photograph taken of the Piazza del Campo in ...

I love washing hanging on a line. When I visited Italy I was entranced by sheets hanging out across streets or from window to window, nonchalantly billowing in the dappled breeze.  I loved that about Italy.  Although Armani came in at a close second, I’ll admit.

I remember the first day I saw that washing, in Siena, late summer, the day I fell in love with Italy.  I went to visit the Duomo, to feel the grandeur, and watch the old women in black who kneel for hours muttering imprecations to the Virgin Mary.  “ Madre, per favore, il mio sposo, mi ha fatto male per troppo tempo.  Prendelo, prendelo, Le prego.  Mi da qualche anni di liberta!” “Virgin mother, please, my husband, he’s done me wrong for too long now.  Take him away. Take him away.  I beg you.  Give me some years of liberty!”

Imagine: your husband dies and you wear black for the rest of your life.  Actually, imagine your husband drives you mad but he doesn’t die.  Then eventually the Virgin Mary answers your prayers, takes him off your hands, and you can’t even wear colourful clothes to celebrate. No wonder they mutter darkly those women.  The men don’t wear black or mutter in church, though.  I wonder why.

Well I steeped myself in grandeur and satiated my curiosity about old women praying, then it became somewhat oppressive.  So I went outside, giving fervent thanks to the powers that be that I’d shuffled those Catholic rules off .  To celebrate, I climbed the stairs which take you to the top of the part that was never finished, but which gives you the view anyway.

Italy does fill your heart in some unearthly way, I admit it. I stood for a while, drinking it in, Toscana in late summer.  Bells rang for someone far across a valley.

With my heart full I descended the stairs to a small cafe, with a couple of tables on the street.  I sat down in the late summer sun, drinking my coffee, nobody else in sight.  The air was still and it was very quiet, early afternoon; that time in Tuscany when everybody is doing whatever they do behind closed shutters.  Sleeping off a hearty lunch of pasta, gnocchi di patate, pollo arrosto. Chianti.  Pane.  They eat more food in one meal than I do in a week, those Italians, no wonder they need to sleep it off.

A solitary person or two strolled by.  A small slinky black cat with a paw that was half white, half ginger, came up to me and stroked itself against my leg.

I knew better than to lean down to it – that makes them run away – so I just let it do its thing.  Replete, I.  And there across the street was somebody’s washing, hanging out of the window, waving in the slight breeze.

My my.

Getting Rejected by Agents, Believing in Yourself and Not. Giving. Up.

Writing can be a lot of fun.  The world of publishing isn’t.  Well, not all the time.  Definitely not while you’re trying to get into it.  I guess any meaningful journey feels significantly lacking in anything vaguely resembling fulfillment now and then.

I’m looking for agents, so my book can be a real live one as well as an ebook.  Finding and  researching them to make sure they’re right for me is laborious and time consuming, but it’s exciting when I hit on one who seems perfect.  Which I did two days ago.  Daniel Lazar works for a New York agency, Writer’s House, and he seems straightforward, has a sense of humor and a big heart.

His bio blurb says “If you think your pages can make me hold my breath or miss my subway stop or even laugh out loud…”  I like that.  So I sent him my proposal – which I’ve worked on for weeks, editing, re-editing, thinking it’s just fine then realizing it’s not, throwing it out, starting again.  If I still worked on a typewriter my room would be littered with crumpled up rejects.

People say don’t invest in outcomes, don’t get attached.  What a lot of crap.  It’s impossible to write a book and not hope that the world will love and respect it and you’ll sell millions of copies and make it to the New York Best Seller list.  People who don’t let themselves have that dream are scared of disappointment so they shut it down.

Today I understand them a little better, although I still think it’s half living.  I got an email from Daniel.  So soon!  All agents say you’ll only hear from them if they’re interested.  My heart leapt – he loved my proposal and me, he wants to read the whole book, this is it, I’m on my way, New York here I come!  Heart thudding I opened the email.

It was from his assistant.  “Daniel asked me to reply…your project does not seem right…”.  Damn.  It’s like a mini-death, there’s no way I could prepare for how heavy my heart feels, and all the crucifyingly criticial crap that comes flooding into my head.  About my book being not good enough for a reputable agency, me being a ridiculously lousy writer, a dreamer without a hope in hell of ever succeeding…

But now I don’t feel so bad.  Daniel, divine as he is, obviously isn’t the right agent for me.  It doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there somewhere.  There must be.  Perhaps we’re moving towards each other already in ways neither of us is aware.  That’s how life works.  All I can do is play my part.  I’ve already sent to a bunch of other agents, and I’ll carry on sending to some every day.

I’m getting together with SEO Afficionado Vernon Chalmers on Friday to discuss my marketing strategy.  I’ve nearly finished the thriller script and I’ve started on the crime novel.  I’m going to carry on, no matter what, and hope like hell my fate isn’t like Van Gogh’s.  I might go mad and end up penniless – but I’m familiar with both those states so it doesn’t bother me too much.  At least I shan’t lose one of my ears.  Ha.

Getting your work into the world can be hard.  Some people are born into an environment that predisposes them to success, but many aren’t and part of the journey is developing a belief in yourself and your work.  The only way that belief can grow is through getting rejected, and learning not to give authority to the messages in your head that say the rejection means you aren’t any good.

The real enemy isn’t the world, or agents or publishers, it’s in your own head.  Conquering it is a fight, it’s one of the hardest things in the world.  But it’s the good fight, and the better you get at it, the more you stand behind yourself deep in your heart.  That’s when the world starts responding to you, duh.  There’s no way past the impasse but through it.  And it’s indisputable that you can only make it onto the list of people who might succeed if you don’t give up.

Fear of Success, Letting the Wild Animal out of its Cage

Attention please..three horses, put on their b...

Attention please..three horses, put on their best face! (Photo credit: jimmedia)

Writing or doing anything creative can be a real challenge, even if you aren’t doing it in the hope of earning fame or fortune or daily bread or any bread, or even just a bit of attention, even if you’re doing it just for yourself.  There’s something about it that’s scary.  Some kind of message in your head that you have to be perfect, you have to live up to an impossible standard that can’t be pinned down.  Pressure!

There’s something else, too.  It doesn’t cost anything materially to write, but the doing of it puts you at the coal face of your existence sometimes.  It defies logic.  The thing is, that part of you that needs to be let out, no matter what the mode of expression, is like a wild animal in a cage.  Keep it imprisoned and it either implodes in a way that impacts on you physically or you go a little or a lot crazy.  Well, let me speak for myself, it’s what happens to me.

I feel powerless, enervated and useless.  I get scared of life and people and I start debating the pointlessness of doing anything.  It’s a slippery slope from there, although the great thing about life is that I always get to a point where it’s unbearable and I’m provoked into crashing through whatever emotional or mental barrier is in the way of expressing myself.  Just do it! finally prevails.

What a relief.  Even if I’m not at all inspired and nothing of much sense comes out because my thoughts are all over the place and my focus is out of focus, the fear goes away once I actually start, get my hands dirty.  The pleasure of the doing is all that matters and my world view shifts in an instant.  Action is always easier to deal with, even if it’s challenging, than the debilitating debate should I shouldn’t I can I can’t I and what’s the point.  I suppose it’s because we only have power when we act.

I think the fear that rises up with non-action is pretty existential and getting beyond it can be a huge challenge. When you’re expressing yourself, even if you’re not doing a brilliant job of it, even if you tell yourself and the world you’re not creative, you have released some part of you that is authentic.  It’s you in the raw.  The first time we’re like that is when we’re babies.

We didn’t know it wasn’t okay to express ourselves.  But for many people their earliest experiences of being in their power were punishing, whether parents meant to punish or not.  Don’t be powerful is the most potent message visited upon children, overtly and covertly, by family members, society, religions.  We take all of that in at the time we’re most receptive.  It registers without our even knowing it, and becomes part of how we operate, how we respond to life.

I believe it turns into an inner, very ingrained expectation of being emotionally brutalized if we let that raw, creative part out and it controls us in adulthood.  Fear of success – If I let myself be powerful will you be threatened and attack me.  Will you leave me, abandon me – it can be hard-wired into every part of our being.  The weirdest thing is how we can be so unaware of it in childhood and adulthood.  All the excuses we make for not being able to do things – excuses that we believe – are a cover up for that immense fear.  But I’ll be annihilated if I let myself out.

Beliefs we’re controlled by are hard to dismantle.  I’ve tried so hard for much of my life to do it using my thinking brain.  It didn’t work.  I guess it’s because our thoughts aren’t what bond us.  Our emotions are.

You Don’t Ever Have To Give Up On Your Dreams

When I long for something and no matter how hard I try it doesn’t come to me, it’s so easy to see that as evidence that I’ve got my head in the clouds, that I’m unrealistic in my dreams.  It’s easy to give up.   But what I interpret as hard evidence isn’t an accurate representation of ultimate truth – it just represents what I can see.

What about all the things I can’t see, all the facts I haven’t taken into consideration?  All the things which will contribute to my success which might actually have been set in motion already – and which I don’t know about yet?

Take J.K. Rowling before she was published.  She was rejected – and depressed about her life, at a real low point.  She didn’t consciously believe anything good could happen.  All the evidence she could see showed that success wasn’t going to happen for her.  The publishers who rejected her said “no market for this”.  Part of her believed it, but no matter how low she was, she couldn’t stop herself hoping.

Even at the moment that one of the publisher’s employees picked up her manuscript off a pile  – the moment that things had been set in motion irrevocably – nobody else knew, and J.K. didn’t either.  At that point, when the reality of her future success was in the making, “evidence” still pointed to her failing.

We often don’t allow ourselves to contemplate our possible success because we’re so hell-bent on believing the “evidence” of our non-success.   But “evidence” is about what’s happened, it’s not about the future.  If we take it as prediction of what’s going to happen, we give up.  We can’t afford to.  And that time of not giving up is the most important time of all – it’s when we sow the seeds of our conviction that our dream is meaningful and possible.

Maybe that’s the secret element that actually makes dreams come true.  Something that defies logic and can’t be seen or touched.

It’s a choice.  The provocation to give up is often huge; there are plenty of times when all evidence seems to be pointing to the impossibility of dreams coming true, when fear is on the prowl and the inner spoiler is a constant pop-up – you’re ridiculous, you’re pathetic, it’s  too late for you, your dreams are way out of your league, look at where you are now – how can you think you’ll ever get to where you want to be….

If you give that spoiler authority you might as well just jump off a cliff.  Personally, I don’t blind myself to the reality of my current situation, but I can’t see into the future and I refuse to believe that where I am right now is an indication of it.   I prefer to acknowledge that there might be a lot that’s already in motion that I can’t see.

Of all my dreams, the two most important to me are to get my book onto the world stage and to get me and my voice onto a stage too.  Even if every person in the world said to me “you can’t do it” I wouldn’t give up.   Because I’d remember that once upon a time every person in the world thought the world was flat.  One man knew it was round.  He was the one who was right.

I don’t want to ever give up and I don’t have to.  Just have to keep on plugging away.  It’s the journey that counts anyway, it’s where all the fun is, all the fulfillment.  Imagine throwing that all away.

An African Summer’s Day

The thing about African summer in the city, you barely make it through the day, body hot and falling-down-dead lethargic, like your flesh is candle-wax too close to the stove.   And bones, you haven’t got any.   There’s no structure to you, just this melt-down happening way beyond your control.   So why did I pick a day like this to drive into the Karoo?   It beats me.

Have you ever driven through the Karoo in a heat wave in a car without air conditioning?   Let me tell you first about the Karoo.   It goes on forever, and so does the road as straight as a ruler.   It gets almost unbearable, no matter what you do.

On and on and on without relief.   But it’s the heat that gets you.   Close the windows and you suffocate, but if you open them the hot air sears your lungs, dry-heat burns your mouth.   Even water doesn’t help how could it?   It’s hot in the bottle, anyway.   Still, you try it and you shout in frustration, your throat is a furnace.

I was trapped in the inferno before I could say Jack Rabbit.   It’ll get cooler, soon.   Soon.   So on and on and on and on I drove, through dry, dusty scrubland.   No trees, no animals, no people.   Just the straight road and the heat.   It’s not going to get cooler.

Seconds dragged themselves lead-heavily, milestones passed interminably, face red, blood pounding, body a hot and sweat-sticky hell.   That’s when I knew, it’s never going to end.   The ferocity of my longing for the open road in my new car, it stopped the world, turned it on its head.

It was never going to end.   I knew that.  I would forever be trapped in a Dante-type open-road-Inferno.   I stopped fighting it, stuck in a dry-heat warp.   I spoke the words out loud I forgot the damn air conditioning.   My voice sounded strange and eery, throat heat-gravel.   I stayed silent and my thoughts shouted burningly, searing my brain.

The tarmac shimmered.   Was that water?   No, fool!   Time stretched sluggishly, life became a slow-motion mirage, the straight road a halucinated river tormenting me with a never-to-be-fulfilled promise of cool quench to my searing body-thirst.

It will never end.   The words became a mantra.   Something had happened to the workings of time.   It had stopped.   Was I moving, was I imagining it?   Hot air in my face, hot air down my dry throat.   Please god let it rain, please, I’ll do anything.   No rain.   It doesn’t rain in the Karoo.   If it did, the rain drops would boil.   It can never end.

Then suddenly it had.   Ended.   Somehow there was no slow getting towards that ending, it just happened in a split second, I’m sure of that.   The torture was miraculously over.   Out of the blue it was evening, and have you any idea what that means?

It means the sun had set and I had arrived at a small hotel awash in an oasis sea of green soft moist grass, huge willow-green cool trees, cool on my face, cool under my bare throbbing feet, cool water drenching the thirst of my sweat-sticky body, cool crisp linen on my luxurious bed.   Then I heard the thunder, and Oh Sweet Heaven.   Cool rain.

Move On! Get Over It! – or Stay and Deal With It

When people say you have to let go and move on, I always wonder why?  What’s wrong with being where you are?  Why can’t you just be here, do what you need to do, until here naturally evolves into another place, another state of mind, one that’s truly resolved?

When you’re grieving, or are unhappy about something that’s happened to you, you have a lot of pretty uncomfortable emotion.   Which is uncomfortable for others to see.   We hate seeing somebody unhappy.  And maybe we don’t like getting our buttons pressed.  The easiest thing is to put pressure on whoever is emoting to drop it, get over it, move on.

But shut the door prematurely and it’ll just open again, later on, anyway, and then you’re back where you were.  I think it comes back to what you do with emotions.  Generally we’re not so good at dealing with them so of course they’re uncomfortable, it’s natural to want them to go away.  But they have a purpose.  They’re symptoms.

So many people believe we shouldn’t have them.  But we have got them, and we don’t generally have anything that’s useless to us.  Evolution takes care of that – the less we use something the weaker and more insignificant it gets until it disappears.  Well, emotions aren’t disappearing are they?  It doesn’t matter how little we use them, how much we repress or try to ignore them, they keep getting stronger and stronger.  So they must be pretty important.

It’s the western way, to try and make the symptom go away without dealing with the cause.  Ridiculous, the symptom is only there because of the cause.  With this business of moving on  I think we stay stuck in our emotion, because we need something.  It’s usually some form of love.  If we figure what it is specifically and give it to ourselves, a) the emotion dissipates  and b) we naturally move on.

Say you have a garden and you go away for a month, and the person who was going to water for you didn’t pitch.  You get back and some plants are okay, but others are wilting.  Wilting tells you there’s something they needed that they didn’t get, duh.   Well, you don’t criticize or pep-talk the plant, tell it to move on, do you?  Of course not, you give it water.  Then it moves on.  It lives, it flourishes.  The symptom has disappeared.  Because you met the need.

I don’t think we’re any different.   Emotions are our form of wilting.   Well we’re different in this: we can shove the emotion down and ignore the need and then tell ourselves we’ve moved on and achieved great wisdom.  But it’s only because some part of us has gone numb.  Plants are very smart, they don’t bother with such subterfuge.  Animals don’t either.

Well, our subterfuge only lasts a while.  Pretty soon the cracks start showing.  We don’t have any control over that, because we’re born to express and resolve, not repress.