Trying On a New Personna

Have you ever tried to re-invent yourself? 

medium_3790890798In the last few months, I’ve read several memoirs by people who found themselves outside their comfort zone and tried, with considerable success, to make sense of the experience.  In most of them, there is a weighing of the familiar with the unfamiliar, the comfortable with the uncomfortable.  In most of them, the author learns to adapt to new and often-trying circumstances.  But few of them describe the experience of adopting a whole new persona.

I’ve had to create myself anew several times.  One of the most challenging came when I accepted a job in Australia, a country in which the shared language masked gargantuan cultural differences.  The day I arrived, I was newly divorced. For the first time in my life, I was completely alone and on my own, as my family, my friends and my professional reputation were half a world away. 

Re-creating my persona from scratch was, all too often, a lonely and frustrating business.  As a “cage-rattler” from childhood, I had to learn how to function in a society in which “fitting in” was a paramount virtue in both social and work settings.  

At the same time, that foreign culture provided an opportunity to break out of bad habits I’d developed over four decades of trying to live up to the expectations of parents, teachers, friends, bosses and a spouse.  I had a built-in rationale if my new persona fell flat (“It’s not my fault—they just don’t understand American assertiveness”).  But it also meant that if my new persona worked, I could take all the credit (“They like me even though I am assertive”).  

In that environment, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. If I failed, no one would be disappointed except me.  If I succeeded, my kitbag would contain a whole new set of tools for managing the rest of my life.  And, mercifully, I did succeed.

What’s your story?

 

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/worldchaos81/3790890798/

Listening for the Drumbeat

file0001842643566I thought it would be easier to get back into a steady routine of working on my novel after a five-month hiatus.  But I have so many ideas, I hardly know where to start. Begin at page 1 and edit chapter by chapter?  Or focus on the new scenes I want to add and worry about consistency later?  

My burst of indecision takes me back to 2008, when I first decided to “be” a writer.  Depending on how you counted, I’d changed careers at least six times over a span of 35 years. I was an experienced business writer.  In my spare time, I’d written a memoir and taken several university level courses on creative writing.  

I assumed this career shift, like the others, would go smoothly.  Friday, I was a financial consultant.  Monday, I would be a writer.   

What I failed to realize until 2008 was that my identity had been defined by my ability to meet other people’s deadlines.  Suddenly, I had no deadlines.  No one expected me to deliver a report or a journal article.  No one cared whether I wrote 100 words or 1,000 words; no one cared what I wrote about.  

Well … no one but me.  But after more than three decades of marching to other people’s drums, I seemed not to have a drumbeat of my own.  Without a client or mentor to set my goals, I had no idea what to do first … or how to decide if what I was doing was worth doing at all. 

Although I had always seen myself as a risk-taker, willing to take on challenging goals with uncertain outcomes, I found myself undone by the sudden lack of structure in my life. In the first few months, I played more games of Free Cell than most people play in their entire lives. I organized files and made lists and cleaned out closets.  Fiddly tasks that would shield me from the realization that I didn’t know what to do next. 

And then, one morning, as I waited for the printed copies of my memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, to be delivered, I recalled one of the insights that prompted me to write the book.  Out on the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from anywhere and vulnerable to unpredictable winds and currents, we could not control our boat’s progress on any given day.  Every hour, we set a course that looked reasonable, knowing that with enough small course changes, we’d eventually get us to the desired destination.

The lesson seemed obvious.  If I wanted to I be a writer, I couldn’t wait for someone to tell me how or what to write. I had to start writing and hope my words would cumulate to a writer’s persona. Write something. Today.  A journal entry. A marketing letter.  A book review.  An essay.  Anything.  

It was a eureka moment. 

And the message is clear once again. It doesn’t matter where I start.  I just have to start writing!

Letting Go

 

 “Experiencing joy in life is not about going out and looking for happiness. It’s about letting go of the beliefs inside you that stand in your way of being happy.”

 

This lovely thought comes from Diane Glass, a leader of Tending Your Inner Garden®, a program that uses the seasons as a metaphor to help women deal with changes in one’s life.

2Her quote captures so perfectly a key theme of both my memoir and my novel — that stepping outside of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. You often learn most about yourself when you’re confronted by people and situations that challenge your beliefs and values.

In my memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, much of the stimulus for my own growth came from trying to adapt to unfamiliar ways of life — simple things like food as well as more complex issues such as social structures and work ethic — as we visited one foreign country after another. Those experiences, often unsettling and/or unpleasant, caused my husband and myself to re-define what we wanted out of our relationship and out of life itself.  Although we are no longer together, we are both the better for the process.

The protagonist in my novel, A Fitting Place, remains closely bound to her home base in New York City but becomes emotionally involved in a rebound relationship that echoes the emotional dynamics of her marriage, but with someone whose social, intellectual, and spiritual background is completely different from her own.  At first, those differences offer an exhilarating sense of possibility, but soon force her to question long-held attitudes toward loyalty, responsibility, intimacy and gender identity. 

In both the personal and the fictional stories, the principle characters were locked into belief systems and ways of thinking that trapped them in unproductive and unsatisfying behavior patterns.   

In what ways has “letting go” helped you to grow?

Shiny Tin Cans on a Christmas Tree

What is it about a Christmas tree that brings back the child in all of us? 

Christmas treeThe question came to mind while reading “The Carpenter’s Gift” by David Rubel. The centerpiece of this charming story is a boy whose family has fallen upon hard times. I felt an unexpected ache as I read that they used shiny tin cans to brighten up their Christmas tree.

The image took me back to memorable Christmas trees of my childhood. The aroma of pine.  The glow of a candle-bedecked tree, lit only when you were there to watch the flickering lights across a darkened room. The dancing reflections of a lights on shards of a broken mirror, painstakingly glued to the branches. Strings of fresh cranberries and homemade popcorn.  It was a simpler world in which a shiny tin can hung on a tree could be a source of delight to a child.  

It has been decades since I had such a Christmas tree, as I too succumbed to the urge to buy pretty things to hang on the branches. True, I never flocked a tree, and I never used boxes of store-bought ornaments. I hung my tree with souvenirs of my travels or important moments in my life. But over time, as the intensity of the memories faded, those momentos morphed into inert things to be unpacked, hung, and repacked.

Last year, in an effort to simplify life, my partner and I gave them all away.  This year, our Christmas tree is metaphorical — a nine-foot tall ficus, hung only with plain white lights and bits of glass to magnify the reflection.  

It pleases me in a way that past trees, buried under mountains of things, never did. 

Am I the only one who longs for a simpler time?