Sunday, December 20, 2015

You Are NOT Broken; I am NOT Broken

Todd helping
me meditate.
Recently, I participated in the latest Deepak Chopra/Oprah Meditation Experience, Become What You Believe. I've enjoyed these experiences in the past because they have the meditation and then probing questions that push me to challenge my preconceptions about myself; however this one annoyed the hell out of me. Every time I got to the questions, I wanted to shout "I am NOT broken, damn it."

My answers  became shorter and shorter and felt more and more forced as the experience progressed. I felt like it was trying to force me to be broken when I in no way felt broken.

There is so much out there that pushes us to examine what's "broken" about us to fix ourselves, to be better, to fit someone else's definition of how we should live. Frankly, I'm tired of it. It's an old trope and is often, but not always, targeted toward women.

Interesting, isn't it?

The more equality we seek, the more we're told we need to fix ourselves. I'm tired of it. I'm not perfect. I never will be.I will continue to learn and grow and change throughout my life. That doesn't make me broken. Guess what? You will do the same. And you're not broken either. Male or female.

We all experience tragedies and make mistakes and hurt others and get hurt. None of that makes us broken. Not in the way these tropes try to make us feel we are. Even if you feel broken at some time in your life due to life events, you possess the power within to address these issues and to find help if you need it.

Please understand I'm not referring to mental health issues, but to the message that all of us are broken in some way or the other because we don't live the way this guru or that expert or that person we've never heard of says we should. No, we're human and being human is perfectly acceptable. Making mistakes is part of being human. Getting hurt is part of being human. Healing is part of being human. Feeling lost and broken is part of being human. Feeling confident and whole is part of being human. Being human is complex and beautiful and ugly and strong and vulnerable. Being human is experiencing life as it is, celebrating the good times and commiserating the bad times. Being human is sharing what we learn with others. There is nothing wrong with any of that.

This concept that to be acceptable, we have to constantly live in a state of fixing ourselves based on someone else's definition of what it means to be a good person drives the self-help industry. I've bought and read more than my fair share of self-help items. I bought into the message for so long. So many gurus telling me I was broken. So many experts telling me I needed repaired. So many people telling me if I just bought their secret, my life would be perfect. I did learn some things from those books, even if it was what didn't work for me, but they usually left me feeling like I could never live my life "right" because "right" constantly shifted.

Now, to be fair, I started reading these books to heal myself after a trauma that left me feeling quite broken. The problem was they never repaired me. They offered me someone else's way to live. And while I could garner tips from them, that was it. And it was temporary until I got my next self-help fix.

My Latest Book of Poetry
There came a day though I started thinking for myself again. I started looking at my own life and seeing what lessons were there. I saw so much more than I found in those books and articles. I saw me. I saw that all my efforts to be someone else's definition of perfect were killing me. I delved into myself and started to write and write and write.... Poem after poem after poem found its way out from my heart and brain to my fingertips.

I started focusing on embracing both my vulnerability and my strength. 

I started practicing gratitude, my way rather than the way someone else said I should, including a morning gratitude meditation.

All my broken bits reunited in the puzzle of me, but it took work and effort and focus and time.

I realized I was never really broken no matter how broken I felt and particularly not in the way all those self-help people wanted me to believe.

Books, videos, or experiences that expand our understanding of the world, of differing points of view, of the experiences of others inhabiting this world, and those that examine the psychology of the human experience are important. They can help us live richer, fuller, better lives by introducing us to concepts we'd never imagined before.

I'm simply suggesting that there comes a time when we have to examine whether we are truly broken or being manipulated into believing we are broken. It's not always easy to see.

Todd standing guard
while I meditate...
Todd's either joining my meditation
kissing the photographer...

At first, the Oprah/Deepak Meditation Experiences didn't feel like they were trying to convince me I was broken. The questions even felt liberating at times. As I ventured away from the meditation experiences to other forms of meditation, meditating started to feel more in tune with my core and began to resonate with me on a deeper level, on a level that wasn't about the growth someone else thought I should have but about where I was in my life.

I still have much to learn and hope I never stop learning, but I am not broken.

I am an imperfectly perfect human who happens to be perfectly imperfect.
You are an imperfectly perfect human who happens to be perfectly imperfect.

I am enough.
You are enough.

I am NOT broken.
You are NOT broken.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Chosen Path

A couple of months ago, a poet friend, Ariel, posted a blog titled Help a Sister Out? in which she inquires whether to continue to submit her work and wait for others to decide if it should be shared with the world or to blog her poems and risk them being ineligible for many traditional publication outlets. She mentioned that she doesn't think she has enough credits to start publishing chapbooks. I started to respond but decided to give it some thought first.

Over the intervening weeks, I've given her query quite a bit of thought.

In answer to her quandary, I'm going to share a bit about my writing journey.

When I decided to take my writing career into my own hands, I knew the risk I was taking. I really did; however, I wanted my career to be my own. My message was more important to me than fame. Staying true to my vision was more important to me than bestseller lists. Frankly, I'd rather share my work with people than struggle to impress the gatekeepers.

My first novel
I published my first book, All She Ever Wanted, through Xlibris when self-publishing was still very much the less traveled road. There were ups and downs, but the book is still available and still sells copies. It might not be perfect, but it's true to message.

Then I started shopping my second manuscript, Red, to agents. I got some encouraging rejections and some mild interest from myriad editors, agents, and publishing houses. Quite a few agents suggested changes until I ended up with a draft that had absolutely none of the heart of the original or my voice as a writer. When I re-read the latest draft recently as I prepared to incorporate parts of it into an earlier version I had a total crisis of confidence. I hated it. 

I contacted an author friend who reassured me that while I had a point about how bad this version was, earlier versions of the book were much better and encouraged me to edit one of those and forget about the latest version. This threw a bit of a wrench into my schedule and the book will be released later than I wanted, but it'll be a better book for the effort.

In addition, I'm incredibly grateful that terrible draft created by changes suggested by agents never made it into print. Did I mention I hated it?

Sometimes the gatekeepers don't know what's best for our work. I know that's hard to accept, but the reality is that the gatekeepers' decisions are subjective based on their opinions, by their own admission.

My first book of poetry
I decided to publish my poetry myself with only a few traditional credits because I wanted to get my poetry in the hands of people. I wanted to share my work and to earn money from sharing my work.

Frankly, I wanted to control my work and the message shared. If people love my work, hate my work, or ignore my work, at least I know it's my work they are responding to.

Technically, one can publish a book using CreateSpace and ebook technology for no cost. This assumes one has the capability to create one's own covers. CreateSpace even allows for one to create one's own imprint under which to publish. There is free software one with know-how can download to accomplish this goal. Registering copyrights does cost money but is worth it. Buying ISBNs costs money but is doable. It all depends on what one wants to do and how much one wants to put into it.

My latest book of poetry
Marketing can be done entirely online though works better with a mixture of venues. I do much of my promotion online but also do speaking engagements and poetry readings. There are multiple avenues to promote ones work. I continue to discover new ways to promote my work and to share my message.

I love having my books out there even though they don't sell quite as many copies as I'd like. From what I've heard this isn't an uncommon place to be for any author regardless how they are published.

For me, taking control of my career and risking people's direct criticism of the work I produce works. I understand it might not for everyone, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

I can't decide what is best for anyone but me. All I can do is encourage others to study the options, really study them, and listen to their own instincts.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Furever Rescued... Who Rescued Whom?

Kit being patient while I
interrupt her brushing to take pictures
Kit loves to be brushed.
Last week I was brushing Kit, and she asked, in her own special way to be petted, a rare occurrence for her. As my independent girl melted against my hand, her entire body relaxing, and her purrs growing louder my mind drifted back to when she became part of our family.

December 7, 2015 marks the 7th anniversary of Kit becoming part of our family. It feels like she's always been here and like she just arrived all at once. I thought a bit about her story...

The first time I saw her, she was scrunched up as close as she could get to our sliding glass door on a cold, rainy Autumn evening as Loay came in from his woodworking shop in the garage. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to let her in because she needed to go home. See, in the past I'd been guilty of occasionally letting a cat stay with us until I found its home. 
Once I even fed a baby raccoon I was convinced had been orphaned. I cried for half an hour when we saw it dead on a nearby street, but I digress. Back to Kit.

I nodded and swallowed hard as I looked at her smushing herself against the glass door. The way she looked at me... Well, if I'd seen her before Loay did, she probably would have already been inside... When I came back downstairs later that night to make sure all the doors were locked and the lights turned off, I checked to make sure she had left. She had.

Over the next few weeks, neighbors were all talking about this little cat. Everyone asked everyone, but no one knew who she belonged to.

She darted in my house a few times when the door was open. Once she ran straight upstairs and made herself comfortable on our bed. Her expression dared me to challenge her right to be there. Each time, I put her back outside. I didn't want to steal someone's cat. She looked so healthy the whole neighborhood was convinced she had a family.

Kit looking at the empty lot and woods
a few days after she came to live with us.
But, alas, it turned out she didn't... at least not any more. When we started talking about when she first showed up, I felt a pang of guilt. I'm certain I saw her be dumped though I had no idea at the time. One day several weeks after we moved in our house, I saw this car pull up to a vacant lot near the woods near our house. The passenger door opened and it looked like someone put something out. Then the car drove away. I remember thinking it seemed odd, but for all I knew someone opened the door to pour out a drink or something. I couldn't see what was happening well enough to be sure. But the timing fit...

On December 6th, our neighbors came over for dinner. They told us they were letting her live in their garage because the neighborhood cats and dogs were being mean to her. They couldn't let her in their house because their cats refused to accept her. They planned to take her to Safehaven Humane Society, our local no-kill shelter. 

I'd wanted a pet for a long time, but Loay had always been resistant. Suddenly, he changed his mind. He agreed we'd take this little cat in. I jumped at the chance. My neighbor assured me she had done her due diligence to make sure the cat didn't have a family with one exception... She hadn't taken her to see if she had a microchip. She knew Safehaven would do that when she took her there.

She brought this cute little cat over the morning of December 7, 2008 along with a litter box filled, some litter, and some cat food and, if memory serves, a few cat toys. She let her out of the carrier. The cat didn't seem too interested in us. She settled in my dining room chair and slept and slept... and slept. She slept, ate, and went to the litter box for the next couple of days on repeat.

We named her Habibiti, an Arabic term of endearment, but she only responded to Kit, so in short order she became Kit. I've often wondered if that had been her name with her previous family.

I made an appointment with Albany Animal Hospital, the vet two of my neighbors recommended and took her to see them on December 9th. I tried to remain a bit aloof because I knew they might find a microchip, and then we'd have to find out if her family wanted her back. My heart pounded like crazy while Dr. Fletcher explained to me what would happen if she was microchipped. I nodded and said I understood. I silently wondered if I'd be able to keep my cool if she was microchipped. She wasn't, so there was no need to deal with the family she'd lived with at some earlier point. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I was holding.

Anyway, Dr. Glaze determined she was healthy and likely around 2 years old. We discussed the pros and cons of indoor cats, outdoor cats, and indoor/outdoor cats. He suggested she'd do better as an indoor cat when I explained to him about how the neighborhood animals had treated her. Which suited me just fine. I preferred an indoor only cat. He gave me instructions on how to let her know she had a new home and a new family where she was safe and secure and loved. The hardest part to implement was to let her come to us when she was ready, when she felt comfortable with us. I wanted to shower her with love and attention, but that wasn't what was best for her. She slowly started to accept her new home and then us as her family.

I started reading books about cats. I wanted to do this right and as naturally as possible.

First picture of Kit. I took it in
my office while I wrote
in 2008
So last week as I stood in the laundry room with the door closed petting her, I remembered all this. I remembered how scared she'd been of being touched and how loud noises had terrified her. I remembered when she'd finally joined us in the family room, hesitantly, as if she was unsure she was welcome. I remembered how she'd laid beside me at my desk on her first blanket on the floor, the blanket that now covers an ottoman by my desk where she'll often sleep while I'm writing. I glanced at the closed door as Meme scratched at it and thought about how Kit's daily brush time had become our one-on-one time. I thought about how far she's come and how sometimes there still seems to be little hints of her life before us that make me wonder... It's almost like she remembers something that makes her flinch or become defensive or even cower like she expects to be hurt. This breaks my heart every time it happens.

Every little step from the first time she sat with us on our chairs to the first time she slept in our bed with us to her gradual acceptance of the two kittens who came to live with us the next summer made me feel like we were doing something right, something good, something that mattered.

Sometimes I feel sad because she'll sit and wait for what she needs/wants for long periods of time without meowing or coming to find one of us. I'll find her sitting outside the laundry room door waiting to be brushed or on her food step waiting for food. But other times, she talks to me. She communicates beautifully even without meowing!

She rarely plays. Even when she first came to live with us she rarely played though she did love to chase a ball up and down the steps. When she does start playing, if she notices us watching, she'll often stop. I love to watch her play. 

She's smart. She's dignified. She's well-behaved. For a while she liked to chase the laser light... That is until she turned around and saw the light came from the thing in my hand. Then she was done with that.

There are times when I see her discipline Meme or Todd for something like when they meow at me while I'm preparing their food or scratch the furniture, and I wish I could understand what she's thinking. Other times I've seen her push them away from the window when a big dog walks by or a strange cat comes too close to the window and I wonder if she's protecting them or does it just look that way. I watch her refuse to let them touch her and then find her quietly watching them play or joining in a game of chase around the house as fast as possible.

For a long time, she'd wait until we were asleep and then sneak in the bed and snuggle up close to us or sleep on top of me. She's finally gotten to the point that she doesn't wait for us to be asleep to join us. Her little habit of waiting, in part, inspired me to write a poem, Stealing Your Affection about how hard it can be to seek affection.

I am a better person because I share my life with Kit. I'm calmer and softer and more expressive. I can't imagine life without her. I sometimes wonder how her previous family abandoned her without knowing what might happen to her. I feel a sense of guilt because while I hate that she had those approximately two months fending for herself, I'm so incredibly happy she's now my family. And, she is. She is family. She's a living, breathing, loving, little ball of love even with all her aloofness, even with all her independence, even with her need reluctance to be touched.
Kit today in my office
while I write.

It's very true that while we think we rescue animals, they really rescue us. They move into our homes, our lives, our hearts. They become family. And, like any other relationship, we get out of it what we put into it.

If I had it to do over, I'd take her in that first night. I'd search for her family while she lived under my roof, safe and secure. When they didn't materialize, she would already be home, family... She would never be picked on and beat up and chased by the animals and the kids in the neighborhood. But, that's hindsight, and hindsight only fills us with regret... The reality is that night, that first night, there's no way I could've known...

But she now has her furever family... her forever family... forever...