Lake House Reflections: Of Fish and Trees

23 02 2015

Fish and Trees

As I said to a friend in a recent email, when I feel overwhelmed, I have the impulse to hit the delete key. As I was recovering from the trauma of realizing what had happened to me, my first thought was to shut down and pull back. Quit blogging, resign from everything, crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after me. Upon reflection, there are indeed be some things I need to pull back from. But writing isn’t one of them. It’s the one thing that works. The written word is what I feel most comfortable with. It’s how I communicate best. It’s how I connect. Connection is vital.

That is why I post this stuff on the web for all to see. I could just journal the way most people do, privately. Leave instructions for it all to be burned after I’m gone, or at least, revealed posthumously, when I’m beyond caring about public scrutiny and criticism. After all, aren’t I ashamed of what I did? Wouldn’t I be embarrassed having the world know about it and my weaknesses? People usually want to show only their best face to the world.

And that’s the point. This desire to only show your best face, to hide your weaknesses, to pretend everything is fine all of the time and keep the dirty laundry well-hidden, is a proud tradition in our society. But it gives us all the wrong impression of what it means to be human. When things go wrong, when we screw up or fall on that best face, we feel isolated and humiliated. We hang our heads in shame as if we are the only dog in the world who ever soiled a carpet. We end up in counseling wondering what’s wrong with us.

Fact is, we all screw up. We make bad choices, have bad luck, suffer a moment’s inattention or indulge an impulse that leads to disaster. If anyone claims they haven’t, they are either lying or not telling the truth. If a few of us have the courage to point out the Emperor’s lack of clothes, then the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief and get about the business of talking openly and sorting it out. This is how we face our problems and deal with them, supporting one another instead of pointing fingers in hypocritical righteousness while praying nobody notices the stains on our own backsides.

Connection is vital.

I’ll readily confess, my first impulse when I woke up the next day and realized what had happened was not Holy shit, I could have died, but Holy shit, what are people going to think when they find out? Knee-jerk reaction was shame. I live in a small town, and that’s what people do. They gossip and shake their heads and pass judgement. I know, because I’ve been down this road before. And I’ve seen others crucified the same way. And yes, I’m ashamed to confess, I’ve been in the mob with the torches and pitchforks. It’s what humans do. It takes constant effort and vigilance not to let yourself do the ugly thing.

Compassion is vital.

So this is me, having screwed up, trying to figure out how to deal with it. Fortunately, I’ve done some of the work before. This is Colebrook Journal stuff. Beware the ruination chorus and that vicious, opportunistic demon, Depression. Individuals prone to clinical depression are far more likely to succumb with each successive episode. You’ve got to know your triggers. If you can’t disarm them, avoid them.

Compassion for oneself is vital.

I am a fish. I keep trying to climb trees. I get suckered by social pressure, the desire for approval and praise that success and fame bring. I keep falling for the Great Lie that Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough (Corollary: If you didn’t succeed, it is because you didn’t try hard enough. Conclusion: Your failure is your own fault.).

Doctor, it hurts when I do this. Doctor replies, So stop doing that.

Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says it, “If we ignore our stress, and just think that if we only work more we can take care of everything, then every day we add stress to stress and store it up in our body. If we continue like this, we make ourselves sick.” I made myself sick.

And, succinctly, “Running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair.” No kidding.

I’ll keep on writing (fish gotta swim) but my tree-climbing days are over.

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10 responses

23 02 2015
Mary Jolles

Sounds like you’ve come up with the start of a plan! I like your analogy of the fish. People keep clamoring about the top of the tree because they have no idea of the wonderful world that exists under the surface of the water… And you know something else? There are a lot of other fish down there ready to connect and give compassion! You are absolutely right. Connection and compassion are what it’s all about.

23 02 2015
jlsfarms

Dear Justine, thank you for getting back to it. You write so well and I learn so much from you. I wish you well, Jack Sherburne

23 02 2015
James120756

You wouldn’t believe how much I needed to read this about now. Honestly, I thank you with all my heart. Sometimes you never know how your words can mean so someone else.

25 02 2015
justinegraykin

We all try to find meaning in what happens to us, especially the bad things. If I can turn my terrible mistake into something that I learn from, and that helps others, it makes it easier to live with. Best of luck with whatever demons you are wrestling with.

24 02 2015
novelfriend

– Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says it, “If we ignore our stress, and just think that if we only work more we can take care of everything, then every day we add stress to stress and store it up in our body. If we continue like this, we make ourselves sick.” I made myself sick.

This is exactly how I ended up in the Emergency Room with one of the worst infections I’ve had in my life. You are very right to remember this… and it was a gut punch for me today because it pointed out how I’m on the road to this again. *Hugs*

25 02 2015
justinegraykin

You are such a caring, giving person, this doesn’t surprise me. If there’s a problem, you jump right in and want to solve it. There are so many problems in the world — you can’t solve them all! And if you don’t take care of yourself, look to your own needs, and have compassion for your own weaknesses, then you can’t be there for others. Don’t put yourself in the hospital again! You are too valuable a person to be doing that to yourself. *Hugs right back*

27 02 2015
heretherebespiders

Oh, hon. You are brilliant, and I don’t see you as a fish at all. You have SO much more drive than I can even imagine! Accidents are accidents – I’m just glad you are okay physically and not impaled on a steering column. I also know the black beast and the feel of its fur, but maybe this time it’s just a brush past your legs and not settling down on the hearth for a long nap?

1 03 2015
justinegraykin

I am figuring out what I can and can’t do, what works for me and what doesn’t. This includes activities which, in essence, open the door and invite the black beast in and set a place for it at the table. No more conventions, no more schmoozing, no more competition, market strategies and courting fame. If I can do it from home on my laptop, and it doesn’t make me weep with frustration, I’ll do it. Otherwise, to hell with climbing the tree. Exceptions: Public reading of my work which someone else sets up (as part of an anthology promotion, for example), and Pi-Con (a small, friendly and very geeky convention which is no stress and which I adore).

I would appear to have a tiny little niche of loyal and supportive fans, and bless you all. I’ll keep writing for you. Even if the Big Five ignore me, you know where to find me. You give my work, and even my missteps, meaning and purpose. So long as I have you, I have all I need.

1 03 2015
heretherebespiders

I do adore you. But this makes me sad. Self-promotion is hard – I know so many wonderful artists who can’t even begin so they are now ‘crafters.’ I don’t think of you the same way at all. Would it help if you had a PA or something similar to take the donkey-work off of you?

1 03 2015
justinegraykin

Oh, fond hope! If you have read my novel, Archimedes Nesselrode, you will understand how dearly I need a Frank Shekel. Like Archimedes, I’d happily go where I’m told and put on a fine performance, so long as someone else more shrewd and savvy handles the details. So far, I’ve had no luck attracting the interest of a literary agent. And goodness knows I couldn’t afford to hire a PA.

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