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Listen, are you just breathing a little, and calling it a life?  — Mary Oliver

Taking a late summer stroll through the winding streets of Panarea—a magical island north of Sicily—I was talking to my friend about my writing.

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She’d asked me why I wasn’t blogging anymore. My goal had always been to maintain a positive outlook in the blog no matter what was going on, but that had begun to feel inauthentic. I was thinking about this when she asked her question—and instead I blurted out, “Since the election, I haven’t been feeling very positive.”

Now. I don’t share that to get political. Like, at all. I share it because it startled me, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since. I’ve voraciously consumed the news over the last year, thinking I was merely staying informed. What I hadn’t realized was how deeply the rollercoaster of events was altering my worldview. I hadn’t understood how much it changed me.

When we’ve lost our way, how do we return to ourselves? 

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I have always been someone who feels deeply.

The page has always been my safe place for processing all those feelings. I don’t always know how to express them in person—if I’m quietly thinking, I can be seen as aloof and withholding; if I’m vocal and opinionated, it can come across as overbearing. But on the page, they find meaning and hope.

Until now. Now the words are stuck. The emotions feel big and complicated and aggressive in my body, but they won’t work their way out into the world. They just sit there, stuck in sludge, unmoving and unable to find a way out. So instead of writing, I read the news. Endlessly. And then I watch it on TV.

A few months after that Sicilian conversation, it occurred to me that I was in an abusive relationship with information. Too much of it isn’t helpful; it can actually feel toxic. But I like being informed, so I wrestle with balance. How can you stay connected to the world around you, while somehow managing to be completely disconnected?

I don’t know. But if you’ve figured it out, I want to hear about it.

Aside from that, life just feels so complicated. And exhausting.

Shopping in Whole Foods a couple of months ago, I found myself trying to pick up a dozen eggs on the way to the cash register. I stopped and stood in front of an entire wall display of eggs. There must’ve been 50 different varieties, each labeled with one of four classifications. Cage free. Pasture raised. Outdoor access. Mobile houses on pasture. (Wait…do chickens have mobile homes???) I was confused. Which was better for the chickens? Who had the best quality of life? What’s the difference between a pasture and the great outdoors? I wanted to be a good person, to make the right decision.

But. There. Were. So. Many. Eggs.

I became overwhelmed with indecision. I began to breathe heavily, and perspiration started to bead on my forehead. I felt ten seconds away from the onset of a panic attack. So I walked away, egg free.

Our lives are so complex. We have too many choices. I’m not sure this multitude of options is adding quality to our lives.

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Even my relationship with food—long my simplest and easiest partnership—is complicated. I’m allergic to everything. (Okay, not everything. But, so many of the things. How can you have creamy coffee when it seems you are allergic to dairy, almonds and coconut and aren’t supposed to have soy?) I took a break from my beloved cup of caffeine for two weeks and then, craving a steamy hot latte, I returned to it one Sunday morning. It made my heart race so fast I thought it was going to pound right out of my chest. I took a break from coffee and, in return, coffee quit me.

I find new gray hairs every time I visit the office ladies room, and a new wrinkle greets me each morning in my home bathroom mirror. Who is this person reflected back at me?

Can you return to yourself when you no longer recognize yourself? 

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All of this left me overwhelmed and wondering how I could ever feel hopeful again. I seek to make meaning in my writing, but sometimes I question whether it’s possible anymore. Did the optimistic l part of me move on, as people we know sometimes do? Or is she still living in me and just on a break, off somewhere recalibrating?

At the resort in Panarea during our Sicilian excursion, there was one young woman working in the cafe who took care of us every morning. Her joy was palpable, infectious. I asked her what her secret was—why was she always so joyful? Her eyes widened. She stretched an arm out in front of us.

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“Look where we are! How could you be anything but happy looking at this every day?”

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She had a point.

Months later, sitting at my desk, feeling spectacularly grumpy, I emailed a friend to discuss the foul mood I couldn’t seem to shake.

She wrote back, bossy with instructions. She ordered me to take my camera and go outside—that very minute—and to not go back to the office until I’d documented something beautiful.

All I can say is, I hope you have friends like this.

I did as told, ending up in Central Park for a brisk walk. The heavens did not part; rainbows did not magically appear in the sky; Moses did not part any sea. But on a cloudy and cool day, I found a respite from city life, if only for twenty minutes. My mind calmed down as I took in the fall landscape. Trees letting go of their auburn leaves. Birds swooping and soaring. Lake water flowing in a singular direction.

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Life moves on. The seasons change, and so do we. And we can focus on chaos and nonsense, or we can search with another purpose.

And so I am left with this: I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know who I have become or are on the road to becoming. I don’t know when hopeful words will once again flow on my laptop. But there in the midst of the uncertainty and the rage and the questioning, beauty is lurking. It may be right in front of me at every turn while on vacation, and it may lay hiding in the dustiest of corners. But it is always there.

Beauty persists.

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And as I make my way back to myself, I persist, too.

 

My name is Dena, and I’m a writer.

There, I said it.

While I’ve always written, I haven’t always had the courage to come right out and say that I’m a writer. I mean, that’s for people who have been published, who’ve been on the New York Times best-seller list, who can visit their work in a bookstore. Right?

When my friend Katie Devine of the fabulous blog Confessions of An Imperfect Life invited me to join a blog hop, which entailed answering questions on my writing life, I started to think about myself a little differently. And as I began to craft answers to those questions, I realized that I actually take my writing very seriously.

As I’ve read the posts of other writers participating in the blog hop, I’ve seen a familiar theme—there’s a deep wariness to own up to our literary personalities. There’s an unworthiness in claiming what we’ve known for most of our lives. There is embarrassment in declaring the words to the world.

Maybe doubt is part of the writer’s journey.  Maybe it exists to prove what you are made of—and to affirm you actually have something to say.

I’ve heard it said that the words “I am” are your calling cards in the world, and the words that you choose to put after them are how you show up in the world. Too often we say things like, I am tired or I am stupid or I am broke. So, that’s who we become. I’ve written before that I selected the words “I am love” with deliberation as my mantra of sorts, because there is no other noble thing than to be the spreader of love. Now, I can claim a new “I am” mantra. I can say the thing that I’ve always known but have been hesitant to say.

I am a writer.

An insight into my writing life are in my answers to the questions Katie asked of me.  I’ve posted them below.

And, since this blog hop is also about discovering new writers, check out Katie’s work, as well as a blog from my brother Marc—who is a budding writer himself. Learn about them both at the end of this post.

 

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1) What am I working on/writing?

This year on the blog I’m writing a “Goodness of the Week” post every Sunday. The idea was to get myself in the habit of posting every week, as well as not to lose sight of what moved me each day, no matter how small. It forces me to keep my eyes open in search of my favorite moments of the day.

Outside of the blog I’m working on a couple of projects. One is a series of essays; the other, a work of fiction. Those characters have been with me for the better part of 10 years. Sometimes they move in with me and chat me up all day—a constant, chatty dialogue. And sometimes they go silent, as if they’re away on a long vacation. My goal is to maintain a steady enough conversation every morning to get their stories down on paper.

I find that once I start talking about the actual content, I stop writing, so I try to keep it all in my head and my heart so the words keep simmering like a good soup. And, hopefully the actual work will get better the longer I let the ideas have a chance to blend together.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

There are so many amazing writers out in the world, and the thing that makes everyone different is their own personal experience. Put two writers in a room with the same set of circumstances and they will come up with very different tales of what happened based on how they view the world. I’m a girl who moved around a lot when I was younger and had the good fortune to live on both coasts, so my understanding of the world is uniquely me—and very different than someone who lived in the same town her entire life. Spending a good part of my teenage years in California gifted me with a sunny outlook that is a welcome contrast to the sometimes cranky New Yorker side of me. Whatever I’m writing, I’m always bringing those dueling points of view to the page.

3) Why do I write what I do?

My intention when I started the blog was to focus on the good things in life, which I know sounds lofty and trite. But I had been in a funk and I simply wanted to figure out how to snap myself out of it. It didn’t really work like that, but what did begin to happen was I started to look for something good in each day, even if it was the teensiest glimmer of happiness. I discovered there really is something worthy of my attention before each sunset and after every moonrise.

Now I write not just to search for the good, but also to find my way through life. Now I write because I must. Ideas wrap themselves in my head and I have to figure out what they mean. My best way to find the meaning is to write them down. If I don’t, I go a little bit mad. The words want to see the daylight and breathe in the fresh air. And if they don’t, something feels a little unsettled in my soul. So, I need to let the words out to play when they are scratching at the screen door.

4) How does my writing process work?

It’s different with each piece. Sometimes the words just need to come out, and they fall onto the page with such a force it surprises me. Other times it’s a struggle to find the words to express what I want to say, if I even have an idea of what it is I want to write. These are the times when I find my way just by writing fragments of thoughts. And I keep at it. Eventually the thoughts string together into one coherent theme. Somehow, the words lead me where I need to go, and sometimes it’s a place I didn’t know I needed to visit. But I guess that’s a good metaphor for life, isn’t it?

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To see Katie’s answers, check out her blog here.

And, to pay it forward, I’ve invited my brother Marc to shed some light into why he started his blog – check it out next week here.

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Katie Devine is a writer who is leaving the corporate world behind to feed her wanderlust and travel the world. She anticipates many humbling life lessons along the way, which she will chronicle on her blog, Confessions of An Imperfect Life. Her work has appeared on sites including Thought Catalog, XOJane, The Manifest-Station, MindBodyGreen, Medium and Rebelle Society. Her first novel will be available at some point after she begins writing it.

When she’s not on a plane, you can find Katie taking endless Instagram pictures of sunsets at home in Santa Monica, CA. Connect with her on FB or Twitter.

WEBSITE LINK:  http://confessionsofanimperfectlife.com/

TWITTER LINK: https://twitter.com/katiejdevine

FB LINK: https://www.facebook.com/katiedevinewriter

INSTAGRAM: http://instagram.com/katiejdevine

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Marc Young is a native New Yorker who has lived the last twelve years in Columbia, MD with his wife and son. Marc has been a Human Resources professional for the last twenty years but has recently discovered his talent for blogging about his struggles with Parkinson’s disease.

Marc’s greatest passion is baseball, a love that he has had since discovering Reggie Jackson and the Yankees in 1977. He is also a loyal New York Giants fan, and has a love for fine cigars.

Connect with him on Twitter.

WEBSITE LINK: http://marcayoung.blogspot.com

TWITTER LINK: https://twitter.com/ReginaldBDogg

 

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