Eat, Pray, Love

One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia
By Elizabeth Gilbert
@2006, 12 hours, 49 minutes.
Audible version read by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Back in 2008 a coworker said, “You really gotta read this book!” She described it to me fairly accurately, and I didn’t think it would be for me. I didn’t want to read about some blond lady’s spiritual journey. I didn’t want to read about her travels across Italy, India, and Indonesia. Eating? I was on a diet!

So it’s fair to say it took me a little time to get around to this book, but it kept showing up here and there. People kept trying to give it to me. And I don’t really know what my problem was. It seemed, well, so “girly.”

The first book by Elizabeth Gilbert I “read” was her Audible version of Big Magic, and I probably would not have listened to that if it hadn’t been for her 2009 TED Talk on Creativity (which hit me like a ton of bricks) and yet another coworker sending me her podcast on Magic Lessons.

OK already, I’ll read your damn book!

Which wasn’t too bad. You know, I liked it. I like Liz’s openness to well, everything. Liz is engaging and interesting and sweet and supportive. You get the feeling that she’s the kind of person people seek out—all the time. Like she never has a free Saturday night. And this puts me off a little. It’s my issue, not hers.

She begins her book talking about how many people she’s going to offend by discussing her search for spirituality and healing, and I get that. I can easily think of people in my own life who would be terribly offended by this book. Liz looks for God on her own terms. She isn’t too sure about marriage or having children. She wants to claim space for her creativity, her own writing. She puts the breaks on her life and focuses completely on herself.

My mother-in-law would hate this book. In fact, she hates all books except for the Bible. If you’re reading a book that isn’t the Bible, there’s something wrong with you. If you can relate to my mother-in-law on the topic of books, Eat, Pray, Love may not be for you—-and, of course, you should definitely read it.

I’m not so easily offended. People can believe things radically different from what I believe, and it doesn’t upset me at all. I just think, hmm, that’s interesting. Wonder how they came to that conclusion? Liz does talk about one thing that I think, gee, why Liz? Why did you want to talk about that. TMI. TMI!

That said, Liz has a great reading voice. I think this book was probably better listened to than read.

So, yes. This was an interesting book. Liz’s problems are not my problems, though, so I wasn’t saying, oh yes, I really get you. Rather I marvel at this woman’s life. I marvel at her success and her freedom. I marvel at her ability to travel and her ability to pursue her dream because my dream has always seemed so hard to pursue. The small issue of money has always presented a barrier to me. I am only just conquering it, and even as I say this I’m not terribly sure that’s true. I mean “future me” probably is going to hate “past” and “present” me.

But Eat, Pray, Love. Should you read it? Yes, I think so. I think it is an important book of our time. I think it taps into women’s issues and gives a picture of the female condition that is very accurate for a large number of people. I think it’s historically and culturally significant.

Plus, Liz’s contemplation of meditation and yoga is very interesting. Yoga and meditation are becoming more important to me lately. My husband got some really bad news back from a test the other day. His ability to concentrate was judged to be under the 20th percentile with his working verbal memory measured just above the 1 percentile. So yes, I’m talking a range from 1 to 100. Does this mean dementia? We still do not know. But it does confirm brain damage. Well, duh. The 40 plus lesions on his MRI told us that. I mean really, what do we pay these doctors for?

But—I digress.

The point is this. Meditation could help my husband improve his cognitive function as long as he doesn’t have dementia. It can help with focus and concentration. Meditation is simple the practice of focusing your attention, of paying attention to what’s happening, right now. The act of bringing your mind back once it starts wandering is like lifting a weight and your ability to control your mind becomes stronger just as weight training makes your muscles stronger.

And as Liz discusses, there are all kinds of ways to do it because meditation has been explored by ancient cultures like India for a very long time. And by a long time, I mean for more than five thousand years. These cultures have the information, in other words.

Liz’s accounts of her heartaches rang true, but her account of her love story in Bali, while I get her excitement, seemed like she was holding back. So I think Liz nailed the “Eat” part of her story as well as the “Pray” part. But the “Love” part, I think she didn’t quite do it. I felt empathy. I felt relaxation. I felt her peacefulness. But I didn’t feel love. Love being a very complicated topic indeed.

Liz laments constantly: was Eat, Pray, Love her greatest work? Is her best work behind her?

Here’s my advice to her. Explore the concept of “love” and I mean this exploration to go beyond the Western one-word “love.” Explore love in Greek terms. Explore love in Middle Eastern terms.

As if I should be giving advice to Liz Gilbert! I should be giving advice to myself! Where’s my advice? Where’s my journey?

But alas, I have a gift for seeing what others must do, and Liz, your best work is not behind you. Best work does not equal most recognized work. Is your most recognized work behind you? Well, that’s anyone’s guess.

Ask Shakeel!

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And more stress

It turns out that my husband’s illness is killing me. My cholesterol is through the roof and my doctor says that it’s not my diet that’s causing it, but stress. Stress. And as I look back on my life, I realize that I’ve been stressed for a decade now. My mother’s illness and death, handling her estate, my grad degree, the job that followed that, and now my husband’s dementia. It seemed that everyone on earth was telling me to go get a therapist and her advice? Leave my husband. My dear friend who came to visit us said the same. Leave him. Forget those silly vows, get out now. And I have to admit, I thought about it. And thought about it. And cried about it. And prayed about it. And I asked for a sign. And the universe sent me a sign. What was it?

A peacock.

Are you f-ing kidding me? A peacock? That’s it. The universe hates me. There is no other explanation. I’m being mocked. By. The. Universe.

But somehow, seeing the peacock made it easier. I could chase a silly dream or I could face reality.

While chasing the dream is oh so very tempting and oh so very enchanting and reality is anything but, I will hate myself if I don’t do the right thing. And the right thing is to at the very least stay around and be his advocate. You just can’t go through our medical system without an advocate. And staying gives me the right and cause to call his family names, like coward. Which felt damn good, I have to say. I can’t ride the high horse if I don’t do the right thing. That is one of the perks.

But back to stress. Apparently my cholesterol is so high that it shoots off the allotted space on the graph. Everything else looks pretty darn good.

For some reason I’m going to buy a house and slip the yoke back around my neck. For this I’ll have garden space and room for a potter’s wheel and kiln. And perhaps another dog. I’ll be 30 minutes from a forest and about 30 minutes from work.

Questions not to ask your cute-as-pie lender: If I run away and default on my loan, what will happen to me? I’ll never be able to return? Anything else. How far is the long arm of the law?

Just kidding.

Anyway, a little internet research reveals some stress-fighting foods:

Asparagus
Avocados
Berries (blue and such)
Cashews
Chamomile Tea
Chocolate
Garlic
Grass-fed beef
Green tea
Oranges
Oysters
Walnuts
https://wilddivine.com/
http://www.menshealth.com/health/conquer-stress

I recently learned that abuse is about control. And as I am nagged about going to a store I don’t want to buy things at after I get off work in the evening, I think again about that yoke. Do I really want to slip my neck into it again. Willingly? Maybe riding that high horse isn’t worth it. Maybe I could step down off that horse and slither away to freedom.

Peacocks.

With all due respect, what kind of stupid sign is that?

 

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+91.98232.02679

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Anger

In my review of Nonviolent Communication, I also neglected to cover anger. And since anger is a big part of my life right now, it’s worth it to me to dig into it.

Rosenberg encourages us to express our anger fully.

I would suggest that hitting, blaming, hurting others—whether physically or emotionally—are all superficial expressions of what is going on within us when we are angry. If we are truly angry, we would want a much more powerful way to fully express ourselves.

The first step in expressing our anger is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger.

(Tell this to my husband!)

We are never angry because of what others say or do.

Say what?

Others can provide a stimulus for our feelings, but not the cause. And it is important to establish a clear separation between the stimulus and the cause.

This is like Greek to me. I like it!

Rosenberg says that it’s easy to equate the stimulus of anger with the cause in a culture that uses guilt as a means of controlling people.

In such cultures, it becomes important to trick people into thinking that we can make others feel a certain way.

“The cause of anger lies in our thinking—in thoughts of blame and judgment. Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault—we are judging the other person for being wrong or deserving punishment.”

This is the cause of anger.

Anger is a result of life-alienating thinking that is disconnected from needs. It indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge somebody rather than focus on which of our needs are not getting met.

When stimulated to anger, we turn off that feeling of anger by focusing on our own needs and feelings or the other person’s feelings and needs.

So isn’t anger sometimes justified?

To this Rosenberg says that rather than agreeing or disagreeing on the righteousness of anger in different situations, we serve life better by focusing attention on what we are needing.

When we judge others, we contribute to violence.

At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Anger can be valuable if we notice its presence as a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely for that need to be met. It’s time to connect empathically with your needs:

“I am angry because I am needing…”

And remember it’s important not to judge. If you put a label of “wrong” on anger, you are judging. It’s better to be inquisitive about anger. What are the thoughts that are fueling the anger?

Step back. What needs aren’t being met?

How do you feel? Scared?

Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.

People trick themselves into believing that pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.

Hmm, I’m still struggling with this. I still think those neurologists who were so callous with my husband need to be punished. I guess somewhere I’m not following. I understand how my unmet needs made me angry and the neurologists didn’t meet my needs and I’m still angry—at the neurologists.

I suppose I could find out what the unmet needs of the neurologists were, but they weren’t seeking help. They weren’t in a vulnerable situation, as was my husband.

Nope. Still angry.

I can make all kinds of justifications for them and it still comes down to they had a sacred duty and they shirked it. I don’t really care why. I don’t care about their needs. They took our money and our insurance’s money and they didn’t render the service we needed them to render.

I want my money back and I’m still angry.

I guess though, the NVC process helps me from being blinded by anger. It has a calming effect. A slowing effect.

  • Steps to expressing anger:
  • Stop. Breathe.
  • Identify our judgmental thoughts.
  • Connect with our needs.
  • Express our feelings and unmet needs.

Ah, so maybe here is what I’m missing. I need to express the feelings and needs to the neurologist. I need to be heard. I need to know that they know. Ah, I need the other party to connect with what is going on in me.

But before those nasty neurologists will be able to hear me, I have to first empathize with what leads them to behave in the ways that are not meeting my needs, or the needs of their patients.

I need them to make it right.

But warning: as soon as people think that they have done something wrong, they will not be fully apprehending our pain.

People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault.

If we sense blame entering their mind, we may need to slow down, go back, and hear their pain for a while more.

 

 

 

Empathy

I reviewed Nonviolent Communication and didn’t touch on empathy.

What is empathy?

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing….Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about them….Instead of offering empathy, we tend to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message.”

I wanted to add this post because I believe the information on empathy that Rosenberg gives is so critically important. It can be impossible to communicate completely with someone when they don’t know how to be empathetic. Sometimes, you just need to vent. Sometimes, you just need to be heard.

Rosenberg lists common behaviors that prevent us from being sufficiently present to connect empathetically with others:

Advising: “How come you didn’t…?” or “I think you should…”

One-upping: “That’s nothing. Wait ’till you hear what happened to me…”

Educating: “This could turn out to be a very positive experience for you if you just…”

Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”

Story-telling: “That reminds me of the time…” (I call this shifting focus to oneself.)

Shutting down: “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”

Sympathizing: “Oh, you poor thing…”

Interrogating: “When did this begin?”

Explaining: “I would have called but…”

Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.”

Oh man, I am guilty of doing so many of these when I really wanted to be there for someone, but didn’t know how. Now that my husband’s condition is so much on the forefront of my reality, I cringe at some of these when they are directed at me.

This communication language thing is very hard.

We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when we sense a release of tension or the flow of words has come to a halt.

When we can’t give empathy to others, it’s a sign that we need to give empathy to ourselves.

When we can speak our pain without blame, even people in distress can hear our need.

So why is empathy important?

Empathy allows us to reperceive our world in a new way and to go on.

And empathy gives us strength.

When we listen for feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.

Empathy can help us mourn our past mistakes:

NVC mourning: connecting with the feelings and unmet needs stimulated by past actions we now regret.

There is incredible memoir fodder in the statement above.

Nonviolent Communication

By Marshall B. Rosenberg

What allows us to remain compassionate even under the most trying of circumstances? This is the question that Marshall Rosenberg seeks to answer in Nonviolent Communication. To answer this question, he examines the crucial role that language and and our use of words play in our thinking and communication.

Rosenberg points out that most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to “label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.” He believes that “life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.”

It originates from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.

Wow.

The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

Nonviolent communication is a “specific approach to communicating—both speaking an listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.” When practiced, this communication method can help you move beyond feeling attacked to really listening and extracting other people’s underlying feelings.

NVC asks us to focus on clarifying what is observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging. When we focus our attention on clarifying what we observe, feel and need, we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

Our cultural conditioning leads us to focus our attention on places where we are unlikely to get what we want. That’s one reason why it can be so difficult for us to get along, and once we know how this works, it’s relatively easy to address our differences by communicating differently, more accurately, and with more compassion.

Our language leads us astray. Instead of articulating our needs and values directly, we insinuate wrongness when they haven’t been met. We say: Violence is bad. If communicating through compassion, we would state our feelings or needs and then our values: I am afraid of violence, I value resolution of conflict through other means.

Notice how the version without the judgement is longer and less fluid. To me this points to the fact that humans have not evolved to be nonviolent and our language (at least English) is a reflection of that.

Our language also helps us deny that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. This easily observable in the phrase: I had to. As in: I washed the car because I had to. This implies that someone was making us and we didn’t have a choice. Denying our own responsibility is “life-alienating.”

The NVC translation of “I have to” is: I choose to do X, because I want Y.

Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility.

We deny responsibility when we attribute our actions to factors outside ourselves:

  • Vague impersonal forces
  • Our condition, diagnosis, or personal psychological history
  • The actions of others
  • The dictates of authority
  • Group pressure
  • Institutional policies, rules, etc.
  • Gender, social, age roles
  • Uncontrollable impulses

Rosenberg believes that it is in everyone’s best interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life-alienating communication.

Four components of NVC:

  1. Observations (articulate without judgement or evaluation/interpretation the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being)
  2. Feelings (state how we feel in relation to this action)
  3. Needs (state what needs, desires, values of ours are connected to our feelings)
  4. Requests (something specific the other person could do to make our lives better)

The other part of NVC is receiving this information from others.

  1. Connect with them by sensing what they are observing, feeling, needing
  2. Discover what would enrich their lives; getting their request.

With my husband, because of his brain injury, I am often in the dark as to what he is feeling and needing. NVC has shown me that a lot can be gained by guessing. It is also helpful to have this kind of conversation with yourself.

Your guess doesn’t have to be correct. What matters is that your guess is a sincere attempt to connect with the other person’s feeling or need. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, you’re on the right track.

What’s tricky is that our language sets us up to confuse thinking with feeling. For me personally getting these two straight is pretty difficult.

The other critical aspect of this is not to judge. I think we are all wired to judge. It’s a survival mechanism. So if catch yourself judging, becoming aware of that as soon as possible is helpful. Try to move past your judgement and into a space of curiosity. Question your perceptions. Find out if you are correct. Judging alienates us from compassion. Rosenberg includes great examples that tease apart simple observation from judging. If your observation contains an element of rightness or wrongness, you are judging. Try thinking through your observation once again to get to the bare bones facts. And don’t forget, comparisons are a form of judgement.

Classifying and judging people promotes violence.

If we can stop thinking and communicating in terms of what’s wrong with others, we get closer to our NVC goal. Instead if we ponder what other people are needing and not getting, we can open up an area of compassion in ourselves. By questioning others to see if our guesses are correct, we can begin a dialog with them and open up a space of compassion in them.

One thing I really loved about this book was that if clarifies a misquote that I’ve often heard and always doubted as false. People will say that whatever you think others are doing that’s wrong, you are actually doing yourself. They say you are projecting. Rosenberg puts this concept a bit differently:

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

Now that, I can get onboard with. I get that. If I say you are hateful, it doesn’t mean I’m hateful. It means I’m needing something from you. Maybe connection.

My interpretation of you as being hateful is a judgement I’m making about you. This judgement isn’t helpful for me to get what I want from you: connection. What I need to do to get what I want is to find out what you need and feel. Once I do that, we can start to progress into a space where we both get what we need, and hopefully feel better.

Of interest to me in my new goal as a caregiver was this:

We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to use out of fear, guilt, or shame.

He goes on to say that each time they respond to our needs out of fear, guilt or shame, their compassion for us decreases.

Bingo.

Beyond putting NVC into practice in difficult situations, it also appears to be a good method of self examination for the purposes of introspection or for writing memoir. How can you nonviolently communicate with yourself? A good question for those of us who are plagued with negative self-talk.

In difficult situations, it’s helpful to take charge of our feelings. But how?

When making sense of your feelings, try this linguistic construction:

I feel … because I need …

We have four options for receiving negative feedback:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts on a wide range of levels.

The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.

Read the book for exercises and to test yourself. Learn more about feelings and non-feelings and how expressing your own vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.

But because I can’t resist, here is one more example, of a  conversation between two people in a relationship:

Partner 1 (not having awareness and taking responsibility for their feelings): “You are so needy and dependent. It’s really stressing out our relationship.”

Partner 2 (enlightened by NVC): “So you find yourself in panic. It’s very hard for you to hold onto the deep caring and love we’ve had without turning it into a responsibility, duty, obligation…. You sense your freedom closing down because you think you constantly have to take care of me.”

Alternative a non-empathic response from Partner 2 where Partner 2 takes responsibility for Partner 1’s feelings could look like this: “Are you feeling tense because I’ve been making too many demands on you?”

This last version keeps both partners enmeshed in emotional slavery, a real bummer of a place to be.

You can use the components of NVC to tune into the feelings and needs of others in stead of blaming them or blaming yourself.

Mixed-Up Magical Thinking

I slept on the floor last night. My husband had been crying late into the early morning and then finally had drifted off into a drugged sleep. Every few minutes he would shake violently but not wake. It put me on edge so I decided to head downstairs.

I pulled out a mat that we had used for camping last summer and lay down on it. I had brought my pillow with me and I knew I had a blanket somewhere.

I decided to listen to an audio book by Mary Karr about writing memoirs. It was my idea that maybe if I delved into memoir writing, it would be like therapy for me and I would finally unravel the psychological demons that have been lurking around all these years.

I woke early as is typical of me. I usually get up around 5 and my internal clock naturally wakes me at this time whether or not it’s the weekend. I’ve been tortured by what my therapist said to me at our last meeting. The idea that I enabled my husband all these years. I gave him a place to live and a camera and didn’t make it difficult at all for him to carry on has he had, without a job. Without ambitions. Without financial contributions.

Why?

Why hadn’t I handed him divorce papers? Why hadn’t I given him that ultimate ultimatum?

All week I struggled with that. Some answers. One: I didn’t believe he could make it on his own and I didn’t want to see him living under a bridge. But much more important, I realized that I don’t play that way. If I had given him divorce papers, there is nothing he could have said at that point to change my mind. He could have changed completely and did everything I ever wanted him to do plus some, and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. I’m not that way. I don’t bargain over stakes that large. So I didn’t divorce him because I didn’t want to. I think my therapist was trying to get me to say I loved him. But that word doesn’t come so easily anymore. I’ve become too resentful, too angry.

It’s true though, of course. I do love him. But this love seems to be assaulted by a need for change, and I don’t want to change. I don’t want to change how I love or to engage in a different kind of love. A paternal or rather a maternal love. And that is, it seems, exactly what he needs.

One of the engineers I work with, very inappropriately I think, began talking to me about what men need. This was a man I had been working with for an hour and had never met before. He was supposed to be one of the giants at our company and I needed to interview him and write an article. He said that all men are little boys.

Excuse me. I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t brought up anything private or relationship oriented.

The advice came anyway.

Men are little boys. They need to be mothered.

I returned to my office and shook my head at my “big” boss. He didn’t understand. I didn’t explain.

I’m from a matriarchy. Strong Texas women. Abused, put down at times, but strong. Always strong. The idea of mothering a man disgusts me. My Texas brainwashing says that men must be strong. And as silly as I can recognize that this is and understanding that everyone needs a soft place to be and safety, it’s still ingrained in me that I’m no servant and shouldn’t be.

Mary Karr described passages from The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. This is a book I’ve never read but have on my shelf. I’ve been carting it around with me since grad school. I bought it from the school bookstore not as assigned reading, but on a whim. Karr’s description of this book was so intriguing that I went looking for it around 6 this morning and found it on my shelf. Now it’s laying on my table, within reach.

It promises stories of a rebellious woman. I can’t wait.

This morning, it strikes me with particular force that everything needs to fall away and I need to work on the memoir form. I need to write about my childhood and the brain injury and Russia and my father and how I was nearly raped in college but convinced my attacker to play Scrabble instead.

I’m not good enough for you, I had said. He agreed. Let’s play Scrabble to decide it. Drunk and stupid, a U.S. Marine that my roommate had brought home along with her boyfriend had barged into my bedroom and woken me up. Before I knew what was happening, he was on top of me tearing at my clothes.

He was convinced that he was going to do the deed. I had never seen him before. We were in near darkness except for a street light beaming through my bedroom window. All I could tell was that he was drunk, stupid, and built like tank. I was not going to be any match for his physical strength. I didn’t bother to struggle. Talking was the only thing I could do, so I set to it. I talked and talked, and now I realize that I was practicing some of the tenets of nonviolent communication. I was sensing his feelings and ultimately I gave him an out. Maybe he didn’t really want to be a rapist. Maybe he needed a way to save face. Since then I’ve talked myself out of a few “situations,” but never one as charged as that.

My roommate felt no remorse about his behavior or that she had brought him home. I never forgave her. I hate her to this day.

This was one of the scenes that played through my mind last night as I listened to Karr’s book. There are so many others that I need to release. Maybe it would help. Maybe.

I need to mourn the death of my former relationship with my husband. So says my therapist.

Why didn’t I present him with the divorce papers after say 5 years of not working? Because he was my only friend. The only person I trusted. The person I could confide in and depend on emotionally. I needed him. Now that part of him is gone, drugged most of the time to where I don’t know if it still exists. It must it seems. But I’m not sure.

I just know he doesn’t make sense anymore. The open person I once knew who didn’t hide from me hides now, and try as I might I can’t coax him out. On one hand I want to help him and sympathize with him, on the other I wonder what our lives will truly be like going forward. I can continue to try to manage the situation, to ignore the enormous gaps that are widening. Or, I can get my head together and figure out what it is I’m going to do. I suppose the first step is to figure out what I want. The next is to see if he can get there at all. The final one is to make some decisions.

My therapist says I have choices. But what choices are there when all of them are bad? Where is the choice in that?

What would you do if you could do anything? She asks.

I would travel the world on a trust fund.

Wouldn’t we all, she says, but what really?

No, really. That’s what I would do.

And your job?

It struck me for the first time that I actually like my job these days. I’m incredibly emotionally invested. I don’t want to leave.

But you would write novels or something if you could do anything.

And I thought back to the last Nanowrimo and remembered how difficult it was—and what crap I came up with. All of a sudden that idea, the idea of being a novelist, seemed incredibly unpleasant.

No, trust fund travel. I’ll stick with that.

But then I circled back to Mary Karr. She had tried her hand at fiction but found that she naturally gravitated to memoir. And when I think of tossing off creative writing for good, names get dropped like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coehlo and new people for me show up like Maxine Hong Kingston. Then I remember authors like Amy Tan. And of course guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Sergei Dovlatov.

And like a codependent lover, I’m back.

Surely, I never thought of leaving.

 

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SKshakeel608@gmail.com