Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Three words we should strike from our vocabulary

I remember the first time I received positive affirmation about my writing. It was in 1991. I'd entered an annual poetry contest for a private, liberal arts college in Erie, Pennsylvania. I had written creatively, both poetry and prose, since I was 13. But I was a senior in high school. Writing was a "hobby." How good could I be? I sent off my entry - just one poem - and didn't think about it again until I'd gotten the news. I'd received an award for a poem I'd scribbled off haphazardly. I was shocked.

It's been 25 years since that award that made me realize that writing could be more than "just a hobby." Working in any kind of art, frequent criticism and rejection are a way of life. For several years, I kept rejection letters for story and poem submissions in a folder like they were some rite of passage. But lately I've been thinking a lot about rejection and three words that have extended their reach into almost every facet of my life: "not good enough."



In the 25 years since that contest, I've finished two degrees, have published many articles, and have over a decade of teaching experience. But no matter what milestones I accomplish, there is still a voice that says to me, who do you think you are? You're not good enough to enter that writing contest? You're just an imposter, and those others will see right through your bullshit. Give up, go back to waitressing.

Anne Lamott said "We're all afraid of the same stuff. Mostly we're afraid that we're secretly not okay, that we're disgusting, or frauds, or about to be diagnosed with cancer." And more ... “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor ... It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” 

My own fears of inadequacy - and that inner voice that says I'm "not good enough" - span to include almost every facet of my life. I've told myself I am not good enough, whether it is as a writer, a photographer, an employee, a lover, a wife, a mother, a woman, or teacher.

So how do we obliterate these three awful words, "Not good enough?" 


  • Show up. No matter what those inner critics in your head say, show up. Keep writing/shooting photos/knitting/racing half marathons or whatever it is that you love. Because when we do what we love, our passion shines through. We gain confidence with practice. Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers that the way to achieving expertise in any skill is to practice it for 10,000 hours. You can't practice if you don't show up. 


  • Be vulnerable. Be real. Getting real about our inner critic and fears of inadequacy is difficult, but there's no better way to squash the inner critic demon than to say its name. Part of that inner critic is shame. But when you confront that shame - and better yet, share it with another person - its effect on us lessens. Brene Brown said in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” 



  • Own it. The hard part of being real is owning our imperfections. We are taught from a young age to be the best, make the grade, don't make mistakes and above all make sure you compare your successes to others. With age and experience, I've learned to admit my mistakes and imperfections because it lessens their grasp on me. Sometimes owning our emotions can be really difficult. Owning it to others even more so. But acknowledgement of imperfections is the first step toward growth. 

  • Celebrate what's unique about you. Walt Disney was originally fired from his job at the Kansas City Star because he "lacked imagination." James Joyce, Irish-born writer and poet, flew in the face of conventional writing styles when he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916 in a modernist, stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Find those anomalies about yourself and celebrate them. They are what make your consciousness and perceptions of the world uniquely yours. 


If you have additional thoughts or ideas about ways we grapple with inadequacy, you can share them in the comments section or write to me at shannonsbucketsgotaholeinit@gmail.com 

Monday, October 24, 2016



Cheryl Strayed said of grief "You let time pass. That's the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then, one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun, and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you're okay."

There was a time I was so shattered, I could not see returning to the things I had formerly loved and defined my life by. Time stopped, for awhile. And then suddenly finally, I've found myself on a bench in the sun. That bench came in the form of a four wheeler in the Upper Peninsula.

It's been awhile since I've written here regularly. Slowly I have been celebrating returning to myself, and coming back to the things that I love after such a difficult and trying time make them all the more savory and beautiful. Fall brought a peaceful reassurance that the things that define me will always be there, and are what I will always return to: dogs, a warm fire in the wood stove, the smell of autumn leaves in the woods, the feel of my favorite winter hat, teaching and talking about writing and writers. This fall I have returned to myself completely, stronger than I ever was before because now I know the pain of a loss that brought me to my knees and lived to walk again smiling.

After a glorious weekend in the Upper Peninsula - the land I love - here are some of my favorite photos:

Lake Superior on a beautiful fall day. I have also seen this same beach when she's not in such a great mood and it's treacherous. Deer Park, MI
My favorite type of tree along a trail that leads to a cabin I once lived in. Deer Park, MI

A dog that belongs to my good friends Joann and Larry Fortier. Deer Park, MI 

Elise and her five month old pup, Mallory, looking over Lake Superior. Deer Park, MI



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How dating is like a job interview

"Maybe God wants you to meet many wrong people, before you meet the right one, so when it happens you'll be thankful." Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera

Oh, love. Why are you so evasive and so fickle?



What if dating was like interviewing for a job?  As a newly single woman emerging from a 14 year marriage, the dating scene has me often overwhelmed, skeptical and disappointed, but also for possibly the first time in my life quite discerning and picky. In a satirical (perhaps perverse) vision, I picture a line of men standing on a stage with their credit scores, salaries, hobbies, interests, education, vices and health histories illuminated on a screen behind each of them. After absorbing the details of their lives and weighing the pros and cons of each from the information on the screen, I look at each of them in their eyes, listen to the cadence of their voices, try to find a connection.

All jokes aside, we put more research and energy into finding our next car than we do our partners.  I have settled in probably every relationship I’ve had in the past, falling into them without any more thought than breathing. I’ve made bad choices and tolerated a lot of things I shouldn't have because I thought I didn’t have another option. Now, in my early 40s, I’m learning there are always options, and lots of them.

Whether you are entering the dating realm for the first time in many years or months, here are some things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known (and done) before my marriage.

Do your research. Unlike when I was dating years ago, there are so many research tools available at our fingertips via the inter-webs. However you meet your next potential partner, Google is a powerful tool. I discovered my husband’s infidelity and secret life thanks to Google. I’ve subsequently learned details that very quickly enabled me to make decisions about potential partners with the click of a mouse. Admittedly, I am a research nerd. But it doesn’t take much in 2016 to be a research nerd. Gone are the days of microfiche and card catalogs. Do your research. The entire globe depends on the Internet for commerce, growth and development and you should too.


Trust your instinct. My instinct told me so many years ago to run while I was just dating my future husband, and I didn’t listen. In my adventures in attempting to date recently, I have had several experiences where, to use a dog phrase, the hackles raised on the back of my neck. Why do we question our instincts? For politeness? Your instincts are there to protect you; trust that innate primitive instinct that alerts us that something is amiss. If a situation doesn't feel safe, get out.



Go slow. As a mother of two girls and an advocate for women, I know that a hallmark of abusive relationships is that they start with intensity and move very fast. If your relationship is moving too fast, take heed: this should be your first red flag. 


If there is talk of sharing bank accounts within the first week, you'd be wise to heed the old adage: fools rush in where angels fear to tread. 

Remember the Bill of Rights. The U.S. was founded on certain “unalienable rights” that are assumed to be “self-evident.” These rights – called the Bill of Rights – are tenets of the United State Constitution and the pillars of respect for individuals. Why, then, do we not uphold the same standards when dating? Often we accept behaviors from partners that we would never accept from a friend or family member. It seems logical, then, to uphold a “dating bill of rights.” My first rule for dating: everyone has the right to not be physically, emotionally, verbally or sexually abused and does not need to take responsibility for another person’s behavior or feelings. 

In this quest for a partner, I have had many adventures lately. But the best adventure doesn't feel risky. The poet Rumi said "Love risks everything and asks for nothing." If we keep these words in mind as a gauge for love, we can't go wrong. 




Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wanderlust

Sitting in one place for very long drives me nuts.

I recently read in The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, of a study involving rodents at the University of Wisconsin. Mice who were bred for running were restricted from running, and then had their brain activity measured.

"The researchers presumed that when the mice were deprived of running,"says author David Epstein, "their brain activity would decline. Instead, it went into overdrive, as if the mice needed exercise to feel normal" (p. 237).

In college, sitting in class, I felt an irresistible urge to walk, to move. Later, my long-term college boyfriend caught me running in my sleep like a dog whose paws move with the instinctual call to propel forward.

Along with my urge to move, traveling comes naturally to me. I travel well... as long as I get ample time moving. It's never the traveling part I dread; it's the stationary part: time spent sitting in vehicles, busses, planes...

I remember taking a cross-country trip from San Francisco through the Cascade Range across Oregon and into Seattle. I had been running avidly in the months before, and it hit me hardest in South Dakota. Watching the wild sunflowers go by in a blur along Interstate 90, my legs itched to move, to be outside, free of the confines of the hippied-out Ford Aerostar my boyfriend and I practically lived in that summer. Once, I made him stop along the highway just to run around in a field of sunflowers for awhile.



Traveling, I feel my mind open up. Sitting still, words seem to settle and stagnate like sand in the bottom of a pond. I blossom in movement.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How it begins

And this is how it begins.


Late at night, when all is quiet, standing over the kitchen sink washing my favorite coffee mug, one hole in a sock, one earring missing, disheveled, braless,
I take a step and walk toward myself, no longer fooled by the naive belief in perfection. Age has taught me I am good enough.

This is how healing starts:
Taking a drive to take a walk down a long hallway, full of fear.


Courage doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear. Courage means you feel fear and 
show up anyway. 

It starts with believing in myself and my truth.

It starts with a belief in karma.
It starts with letting go.
It starts with one step back toward my "self."

It starts with quiet, under a black sky and a blanket of stars. It starts with a cold inhale stinging my nose and a vapor trail
exhale. And the things I love: solitude, my dogs, books, hot coffee on a cold morning. I have not changed. The things that ground me, interest me, fill me still remain. You are a chameleon, changing your skin to suit the company you're in. To fit in.

It starts with music. 



It starts with trusting myself instead of you,
of listening to that voice inside that told me all along...
the voice you said was "delusional"; the voice you said was "crazy"; so many disparaging words you said about the truth.

It starts with the softening, like butter.

It starts with forgiving myself and seeing the value in no. 



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happiness

Yesterday, along a desolate
beach, while walking down a rocky embankment,
under a grey, moody sky,
I found happiness.

Anchored by a grey rock among hundreds of other grey rocks, against a grey-backdrop day muted by a sullen December sky
Happiness flapped, bright yellow.
He looked ridiculous against such a dull pallor. I tried to tell him how outrageous he looked,
but he wouldn't listen. I rolled my eyes at his enthusiastic dance, but my stares only made him more emphatic.

He waved fiercely in the wind:
"Hey! Hey! Over here! Come catch me!"

He had a story to tell.
Perhaps he belonged to a child at a birthday picnic and the fierce wind
snatched him away from her tiny hands
ruthlessly.

He was sad but he perservered,
holding steadfast to his smile, knowing one day someone would need him,
would find him.

I found happiness yesterday, floating haphazardly along the lake.

I picked him up and took him home.






Thursday, December 3, 2015

Excerpt

Here's what I know: you can do a lot of things that at first you think are unbearable and don't think you can do. 

The men from the funeral home came, finally, after my family grieved around my dad’s small body in the hospital bed in the spare bedroom. They put a thin gurney in the narrow hallway. It didn’t look wide enough to hold an average-sized person, but it was perfect for my dad. They began removing the blankets that covered his lifeless body, and I asked routinely “do you need help with anything?” not expecting an answer. Surprisingly, one of the men said, “Yes, in fact,” and asked me to stand at the head of the gurney to steady it for placing my father’s body on it. I did what I was asked. I am the daughter of a Marine, after all. 

I stood holding onto the cold metal rail at the head of the gurney, bracing myself for him to appear. The hallway and time seemed to stretch, becoming longer, narrower, and my head started to spin. I began sobbing in anticipation of seeing him carried out of his house this final time, questioning to myself whether I had the strength for this duty. And then he appeared. Wrapped in a white sheet, naked except for an adult diaper, the big man I’d known as my father appeared a gaunt, tiny frail person in the funeral man’s arms. He carried him like a baby, cradling his head against his arm and chest and walked slowly, carefully toward me. As he lay my father down before me on the stretcher, I looked down at my father’s face from above and great swells of sobs took hold of me uncontrollably. The funeral man placed a navy blue velour blanket over my dad, pulling it taut up to his chin over the white sheet. I could see his thin legs under the blanket in repose and the knob of knuckles underneath where his hands were folded neatly over his rib cage. He looked peaceful finally as I looked down at him there. His mouth finally closed. 

I pulled the stretcher out of the hallway with the two funeral men, our informal private calling hours now taking place in my parent's living room, and my mom began to wail. “I can’t let him go!” she repeated, and leaned down and kissed my dad’s sunken eyes and cold cheeks and forehead. I wrapped my arms around her sobbing body. She shook with grief. I wanted so much to protect her from this pain. But I couldn’t. Grief is a process, and it comes in waves, and the waves crashed hard within my parent’s living room that morning.